An Indigenous group plans to erect a billboard west of Osoyoos this weekend as part of its effort to provide some alternative conversation to the Canada 150 birthday celebration.
The Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth Collective will be unveiling the colourful billboard on Lower Similkameen Indian Band property this Saturday morning.
It wanted to express the colonial oppression of Indigenous people over the last 150+ years. The billboard depicts the oppression through images that symbolize the theft of land, residential schools, industry, and environmental destruction.
It features the artwork of Kelowna artist Crystal Przybille, who describes herself as a “settler descendent.”
“I was born in the Okanagan but my ancestors are from Europe,” she said. “I describe myself as a settler descendent so that there’s no confusion as to whether I’m aboriginal, which I’m not.
“My motivation was just that I was born and raised in the Okanagan and it was surprising that it wasn’t until well into adulthood that I started to gain any understanding of Indigenous culture in the Okanagan.”
The billboard art, she said, is the result of a series of discussions initiated by members of the Syilx/Okanagan community with people from non-Indigenous backgrounds.
“Though the artwork was created by my hand, it was the collective thoughts, experiences, and voices that conceived the idea and content of the work.”
The billboard will be located about 30 km west of Osoyoos on Hwy. 3. It is part of a series of initiatives scheduled to provide an alternative to Canada 150 celebrations and foster meaningful discussion — and perhaps reconciliation — between Syilx/Okanagan people and non-Indigenous Canadians.
“I want our untold history to be told,” explained Dixon Terbasket, a member of the Syilx Okanagan tribe engaged in the Rethink 150 movement. “For a relationship to be strong, people need to talk about what’s upsetting, not just suppress it and ignore it.”
“My hope is we create a dialogue. We’re all hyped up about 150 years of Canada,” he said. “But there’s a big gap between this and the Indigenous First Nations and Okanagan people’s history.”
“You can’t talk about celebration of Canada without talking about what’s gone on and what it has meant for a whole culture that was here originally,” agrees Ms. Przybille.
She sees the billboard and its art as a soft, non-threatening approach to that conversation.
“We’re wanting to catch people’s attention, but we also want to do it gently,” she explained. “We very much chose to do our activism through this gentle but powerful mode of art.”
The Rethink 150: Indigenous Truth Collective is one of many initiatives across the country that question Canada 150 celebrations.
Rethink 150 also plans an art exhibit and discussion events at the Alternator Centre for Contemporary Art in Kelowna during the week leading up to July 1. It is looking for relevant art from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. More information can be found at the group’s Facebook page.