Jordan Abel: Indigenous peoples are not welcome in Kootenay history

What did you do on July 1?

What did you do on July 1?

I’m curious. You had options. You could have gone to any number of #Canada150 events. You could have hung out with friends and family. You could have gone camping. You could have even gone glamping if that’s more your thing.

Me? I couldn’t find any #Resistance150 events to attend, so I stayed at home. The thing is that for Indigenous peoples Canada Day and #Canada150 is not a time of celebration. In fact, #Canada150 is for many (myself included) a celebration of colonialism and Indigenous genocide. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against friends, family, and having a good time. But I do have an issue with celebrating Canada. And I have an issue with celebrating colonialism. That’s why I chose to stay at home.

The only issue with my plan is that my wife Chelsea is a reporter. And on stat holidays like Canada Day, that often means that I’ll end up going to stuff that I wouldn’t normally attend just to spend a little more time with her.

So on Saturday I ended up going with her to see a Gold Fever Follies play in Rossland called The Red Mountain. I had been to the Follies last year under similar circumstances, and while musical theatre isn’t my forte I was more than happy to support those actors and the community.

While this year’s play started with an acknowledgement of the traditional Sinixt territory, the main narrative was quickly revealed as centering on (and sympathizing with) yet another white male that dreams of discovering, conquering and owning land that (in the true spirit of colonialism) has remained “undiscovered” until he saw it. The rest of the narrative unfolds from there and does basically nothing to problematize the very troubling ideas of ownership and discovery that form the backbone of the story.

In fact, the play embraces those ideas by mobilizing them in a way that not only erases any and all Indigenous presence on the land but that also reinforces an idea that this land was gifted to the protagonist by divine will precisely because his heart was in the right place.

That is some grade-A colonialist BS right there. The purpose of this narrative and narratives like it is to ease settler guilt over the theft of Indigenous land and to obfuscate the seriousness of Indigenous genocide by way of omission (because it would be inconvenient to do otherwise).

This is why I didn’t want to go anywhere on July 1.

It’s bad enough to have to confront the kinds of blind nationalism that comprise most of #Canada150. It’s another thing completely to hear most of the cast of the play chant “mine, mine, mine” (referring to both the act of settler ownership over the land and historic resource extraction industry that formed the economic backbone of the region) while the audience cheered and laughed.

The thing is that I am deeply hesitant to support a production like this. I am also deeply hesitant to recommend it to anyone. Except, I do think it is exceptionally important that we support our community, that we support our arts, and that we support the people that try to make this happen for the community itself.

My only question is who is included and who is excluded when we talk about community?

From what I saw of that play, Indigenous peoples, Indigenous history, and Indigenous stories are not welcome in that space. That is a real problem that will take a whole community to address.

Jordan Abel is a Nisga’a writer from B.C. He is the author of The Place of Scraps (winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize), Un/inhabited, and Injun (winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize).

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