In 2017, the Canadian company Roots started a “Be Nice” campaign in order to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the country’s confederation and promote nationhood for the 150th Canada Day celebration. The representation of Roots in relation to Canadian identity is strong as the company is globally known as a Canadian company. Roots utilized the hashtags #RootsIsCanada and #BeNice as a means of solidifying the interlockings of the company brand with Canadian identity and culture (Valesco 1). The campaign erupted in mainstream Canadian society in the form of posters, social media interaction and store windows promoted the ad “celebrating 150 years of being nice” and this became a national signifier of Canada’s 150 years of existence.
In the above advertisement, the colour scheme red and white work together simultaneously with the word “nice” to promote Canadian identity. The campaign “Be Nice” was celebrated by Canadians due to the nationalist ideal that Canadian culture is premised on notions of “niceness.” The idealization of Canada’s niceness as a nation outlines what makes a Canadian a “true” Canadian. I assert that the claim “150 years of being nice” works as a colonial machine to erase Indigenous struggles against colonialism. The ad fails to recognize that Canada was built on notions of genocide through dispossessing Indigenous people of their rights as the first people’s to live within “Canada’s” geography.
Discourses such as the Roots “Be Nice” campaign is a colonial manifestation of ignorance and erasure. It is clear that this campaign reveals that there is a high level of ignorance on behalf of the Canadian state who deems themselves as advocates of human rights and “being nice”, in regards to the violence that is happening in their backyard with the Indigenous peoples of Canada. The word “nice” excludes a huge part of history which inform how our society is currently operating.
“Be Nice” as a campaign idealized Canada as a nation and my culture jam calls into question how a Canadian company both understands and stabilizes colonialism through promoting “150 years of being nice.” It is clear that the add was made for certain Canadians to celebrate at the price of invisibilizing the Indigenous population and disregarding the ongoing forces of colonialism and not acknowledging how this attacks the livelihoods of Indigenous communities.
I replaced the “celebrating 150 years of being nice” by substituting “colonialism” for the word “nice.” This reveals the power of language and how specific word choice can be effective for creating a national critical consciousness. The word “colonialism” demands that Canadians recognize the historical and current context of Canadian businesses that dominate Canadian national identity and advertise Canadian culture in untruthful manner. Bringing into light the idea of “colonialism” through adds that facilitate consumerism intersects society in a specific way as the campaign was coupled with a button that buyers could purchase in stores. All proceeds of the “Nice” button would be donated to WE’s indigenous youth program (Valesco 1). Money silences the ongoing complexities of contemporary colonialism that Indigenous communities across Canada’s geography are constantly battling against. Money contributes to the national naturalization of Indigenous disempowerment and the need for Canada “to fix” Indigenous communities when the root of the problem they are attempting to fix is because of colonialism triggered by white-settlers. The money donations allow colonial-settlers to look past the continuation of certain structures and promotes distant empathy when Canada is not in need of empty humanitarian moves to “alleviate” the impacts of settler-colonial violence. The “Be Nice” campaign is a band-aid solution so that the rest of the country is able to celebrate 150 years, while Indigenous communities are forced to come to terms with colonization and accept that it’s not changing, even after 150 years of oppression. I removed the hashtag #BeNice and replaced it with #Decolonize as a deliberate means to convey the message that Indigenous empowerment requires more than monetary donations, but requires all bodies within Canada to think about the meaning of decolonization.
Colonial nations, specifically Canada have situated themselves as the center of promoting human rights without being conscious of what atrocities occur in their own geographies and create an illusion that Canada is “nice.” As a Canadian company, Roots is guilty of pathologizing atrocities without taking into consideration the societal hierarchies that inform our everyday lived experiences. The inserted #Decolonize in my jammed version of the ass is a term should be considered in verb tense- an action that all people in the Canadian state must participant in. It is convenient for our society to not recognize the legacy and current experiences with settler-colonialism. A key component to eliminating ignorance in the world is our ability as nation to share the stories of our past because they inevitably contribute to our present and future. Roots as a widely known and respected company has the influential power to make this change.
My focus of the jammed ad for Roots “Be Nice” campaign narrows in on the violent nature of words and promoting untruthful dialogue of a Canada’s history and current politics. My alteration unpacks the exclusion of colonialism in relation to Indigenous communities. This change is especially significant to me as a settler visiting Vancouver as a student and coming into contact with the Roots advertisement on Robson St, as the poster was situated on the unceeded territories of the Coast Salish people’s. I hope that by calling into conversation the potential effectiveness of word choice and how this could facilitate decolonization that my altered ad raised awareness in regards to the current embeddedness of colonial discourse.
Loughan, Sean. “IT’S IN OUR ROOTS TO BE NICE.” Gas & Gander, 22 May 2017, www.gasandgander.com/blog/2017/5/22/its-in-our-roots-to-be-nice.
“For Canada 150, Roots Wants Canadians to Be ‘Nice.’” CNW, PRNewswire, 30 June 2017, www.newswire.ca/news-releases/for-canada-150-roots-wants-canadians-to-be-nice-620489323.html.
Simpson, Leanne. Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Pub., 2011. Print.
Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor | Tuck | Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society.” Decolonization Is Not a Metaphor | Tuck | Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2016. <http://decolonization.org/index.php/des/article/view/18630>.
Valesco, Hayley. “Roots Looks to Celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday by Showing How Nice Canadians Are.” The Drum, Cognition, 2 May 2017, www.thedrum.com/news/2017/05/02/roots-looks-celebrate-canada-s-150th-birthday-showing-how-nice-canadians-are.