Colonization Road documentary examines legacy of colonialism

Original Article Here

Miner and News
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 6:44:59 EST PM

If seeing the Colonization Road sign off Lakeview Drive makes you ask questions, there’s a new documentary that goes into the history of such roads, both named and unnamed.

Colonization Road, directed by Michelle St. John and hosted by Anishinaabe and Métis comedian Ryan McMahon, will air on CBC’s Firsthand program on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 9 p.m.

St. John said the original idea came from the Colonization Road in Fort Frances when she travelled there with her Turtle Gals theatre company. The next year, she and Jani Lauzon, another company member, travelled to Kenora for a youth conference and were chatting about seeing the road there when they were told there was one in Kenora as well.

“That was the way the policy perpetuated itself,” she said. The idea spent several years as a theatre piece and then morphed into a documentary.

One thing that’s not explicit in the film, but St. John said the viewer can hopefully connect the dots, is how close in proximity all the places explored in the documentary are, like Couchiching, Fort Frances, Manitou Rapid, Rainy River and Shoal Lake. “You can kind of see how close everything is,” she said. “We don’t actually talk about, but there’s a thread there.”

St. John explained that Colonization Roads in Ontario were part of several policies implemented to expand settlement and push out Indigenous populations already living there. The first road built in areas identified for settlement would be called Colonization Road, “kind of to manifest this idea of ‘If we build it, they will come’,” she said.

Sometimes the roads weren’t directly named after their end goal. St. John gave one example of a grid of roads in the Ottawa Valley built in the 1850s through the Public Lands Act of 1853. “All of those roads are colonization roads, even though they weren’t named Colonization Road,” she said.

As for McMahon, St. John said it made sense for him to host the documentary, as he grew up in Fort Frances and had his “aha” moment when he saw a picture of the Turtle Gals company posing with the sign in his hometown. “The focus of his work since then has really been about decolonizing and shedding light on this issues,” she said. “It just seemed logical to me when it was time to make the film, he would be a great tour guide down that road because he has that personal connection to it, and it really did kind of change his life once he realized what it meant, the damage it had done.”

St. John said the documentary has the potential to be “just one of the many” tools to start or advance discussions into Canada’s legacy of colonialism. “In this era of reconciliation, it’s one thing to say ‘Let’s all be friends, let’s all put the past in the past,’ but the reality is that colonialism is ongoing and we are all affected by it whether we recognize that or not,” she said.