New Canadian currency ignores indigenous achievements

Lack of indigenous representation on new bills smacks of colonialism

Kaitlyn Emslie Farrell

The new $20 bill is rubbish. 

Not because it is neon green and attacks my eye sockets, nor because the Queen is starting to look more apish in every incarnation.

It’s also not the weird see-through plastic with tacky holograms.

I can accept bad aesthetic taste.

I’m having a really hard time coming to terms with another piece of currency with a war memorial on it and the elimination of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii statue.

That statue was the one representation of aboriginal culture on our currency.

Instead our banknotes will have a train, an icebreaker, the Canadarm2, the Vimy Ridge memorial and a lady at a microscope.

This is more important than recognizing the indigenous foundation of our country?

I understand this new polymer series was intended to explore and celebrate Canadian technical achievements.

However, an exception was made to include a war memorial on the new $20 bill.

What a war memorial has to do with technological achievements to be proud of, I have no idea. I celebrate technology that helps us avoid killing.

Canadians as a whole are not standing up and declaring indigenous peoples as respected and equal partners in our common future.

Indigenous cultures have some amazing technological achievements worth celebrating.
Unfortunately non-indigenous Canadians frequently fail to pay attention to these successes.
Imagine hundreds of bison running off of a cliff directed by a group of humans who await their existential leap, watching as these beasts plunge over the crag.
The purpose of this deluge of buffalo was quite simply survival for the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains.
The buffalo jump one of the most amazing feats of food production achieved by any humans.
Technology like this is rarely considered for representation as historic achievements of Canadians.
It’s hard to believe we couldn’t find room to honour the indigenous origins of the canoe and kayak.
Canoes and kayak are quintessentially Canadian and they come from the transport and travel networks established before colonization by Europeans.
Indigenous peoples were able to make canoes out of birch trees and kayaks out of animals. Tell me how many people can still do that?
I’m pretty certain this is a very important technological achievement central to Canadian identity, yet we seem to be biased towards steel and plastic.
Instead of representing the canoe and kayak or the buffalo jump, we have a war memorial.
Our Canadarm2 is more important, our trains are more important.
We are comfortable in our techno-hubris.
But who are we? There has been a tension in Canadian identity since the very beginning.
How do we incorporate indigenous peoples into a colonial project which at its very foundation displaced their autonomous presence originating before settlement by Europeans?

This is happening in the worrisome context of the Conservative government strengthening Canadian nationalism.

The Conservatives announced they were changing the name and focus of the Museum of Civilization to focus more specifically on Canadian history, especially military achievements.

This is happening at the expense of the anthropological components of the museum (read: indigenous and world history).

Why this Harper rebranding?

Harper relies on reactionary and chauvinistic nationalism to maintain his neoliberal and warmongering policies.

It is jingoism at its very foundation.

Nationalism requires reimagining history and a whole lot of collective forgetting.

This is happening while the Harper regime is currently shifting federal policy back to prioritizing efficient pathways to assimilation of indigenous peoples.

The Conservatives are focusing on instilling private property rights with the forthcoming First Nations Private Ownership Act, and attempting to eliminate self-determination through a reorientation of negotiations focused on terminating treaty rights and claims.

They are trying to eliminate indigenous collective rights.
Canadians as a whole are not standing up and declaring indigenous peoples as respected and equal partners in our common future.

Instead we are letting the Conservatives bully them for what little they have left of a continent they once owned.

The loss of representation on our banknotes is one minor example of how their culture, history and future aren’t important enough to be of serious concern.

Our national shame still remains, with Harper wishing to sweep it under the rug once and for all.

He’s declared we have no history of colonialism. The reality is we just have a poor memory.

Alex Paterson is a Uniter beat reporter and wannabe anti-colonial settler who has lived all over Anishinaabeg territory. He blogs about justice in Canada at

Published in Volume 67, Number 13 of The Uniter (November 28, 2012)

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