Canada’s 150th to recognize Indigenous peoples
Photographer Tim Van Horn is focusing on the bigger picture in 2017. He wants to drive across the country in a 37-foot motor home covered in 54,000 photos he has taken of Canadians. The Canadian Mosaic Project is not only meant to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation, but also to acknowledge Indigenous peoples.
“It’s time that we reconcile with the First Nations and turn the page and start to see them in a different light,” says Van Horn.
To do his part, Van Horn is constructing a seven-by-seven foot mosaic using pictures of First Nations people to be mounted on the back of the pavilion on wheels. He says Heritage Canada has been warming up to funding the $250,000 project that will include two other mosaics.
The shift in tone comes as the new federal government is changing the way it wants to celebrate its 150th anniversary. On March 15, 2016, the Canadian Heritage Minister, Mélanie Joly announced a new vision for Canada 150 celebrations that now includes reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Dawn Lavell-Harvard, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, welcomes the change.
“The celebration of 150 years of Canada can been seen as a dismissal of indigenous peoples and that’s why it’s important to balance this,” says Lavell-Harvard. “That it not become a celebration of that process of colonization, but a celebration of reconciliation and trying to acknowledge the original peoples.”
Claude Denis, a political studies professor at the University of Ottawa, shares a similar view. “It’s important to not whitewash the current situation,” says Denis.
Prior to this shift in vision, the previous Conservative government’s theme for Canada 150 was “Strong. Proud. Free.” This theme made no mention of First Nations.
“This is something that the previous government had no interest in doing,” says Denis.
Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples is now one of the four new themes the government will emphasize as part of a four-year $210 million effort that began in 2015. The three other themes are diversity and inclusiveness, the environment and youth. Canada 150 aims to bring citizens together to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation.
A Canadian Heritage spokesperson says the decision to include Indigenous peoples in Canada 150 stems from the throne speech commitment to reconciliation.
“We want to support reconciliation efforts with Indigenous people and make use of the 150th anniversary to reaffirm our intent to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” says Tim Warmington, a Canadian Heritage media relations advisor, in an email.
Lavell-Harvard says she supports events or physical structures built to encourage reconciliation during Canada 150 celebrations.
Professor Denis says it’s going to be a challenge. “I’d suggest that projects that involve interaction between indigenous and non-indigenous people would be important.”
It appears, at least in one instance, that this is happening. Tim Van Horn has been collaborating with a Squamish First Nation artist to complete the mosaic that includes the faces of 1,000 First Nations people.
“There’s a lot of reconciliation that needs to be going on in this country.”
Van Horn also expresses hope that reconciliation can extend beyond Indigenous peoples for Canada 150.
“There’s a lot of reconciliation that needs to be going on in this country with First Nations, with Chinese people, with the Japanese internment camps. You know if you really want to go down the list there’s quite a few groups that have had hard times put upon them by the Canadian government,” says Van Horn.
The department of Canadian Heritage hasn’t ruled out acknowledging historical wrongs to other cultural groups as part of Canada 150, but it is not saying much more than that.
[Frontpage/header photo courtesy of Tim Van Horn]
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