Indigenous land claim 'censored' from his Canada Day performance: Patrick Watson

MONTREAL — Canadian singer-songwriter Patrick Watson says Heritage Canada edited out a land acknowledgment he made to Indigenous peoples before his Montreal Canada Day performance.

Watson posted on Facebook Thursday he was "deeply upset" to discover his statement did not make it into the hour-long broadcast, which was pre-recorded and filmed in Montreal's Olympic Stadium.

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The virtual show was funded by the federal government as a replacement for the annual festivities held in Montreal to celebrate the national holiday.

Montreal-based communications agency, Tandem Communication, put the show together.

The musician said he made the acknowledgment during his performance but it was not included in the program broadcast to Canadians. A version of the performance, available online, does not contain Watson's homage to First Nations peoples.

A land acknowledgment is a statement that recognizes Indigenous peoples occupied the territory that became Canada following colonization.

Watson posted what he called the "censored" words he uttered during his performance.

"We would like to acknowledge that we are playing at this event from the unceded lands of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation," he wrote. "Tiohtià:ke/Montreal is known as gathering place for many First Nations, we hope to honour that tradition."

The musician said he wanted to celebrate "where I was standing, to point out the connection between the Indigenous struggles with the Black Lives Matter movement, and to include everyone who lives in Canada and their sensibilities."

A Heritage Canada spokesperson said it has no involvement in the programming choices of the communities and organizations it funds.

"Each year, Canadian Heritage provides funding to support activities through the Celebrate Canada program. This funding allows communities and organizations across Canada to celebrate the diversity of our country through four days of celebration, including Canada Day," Martine Courage said in an email.

"Funded communities and organizations are responsible for programming their respective activities."

Deputy NDP Leader Alexandre Boulerice, an MP from Quebec, said Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault needs to explain why Watson's statement was not included in the official program.

If Guilbeault doesn't explain the decision, Boulerice said in an interview, "it would be very, very hypocritical for the Liberals to wrap themselves in reconciliation with First Nations and Indigenous peoples and then, censor artists who just want to express their solidarity with certain aboriginal peoples."

Guilbeault, however, did mention the country's Indigenous peoples, in a recorded statement edited into the virtual Canada Day performance. In fact, Guilbeault's message opens the show.

The minister said "Indigenous peoples have taken care of this land over the centuries. Their cultures and traditions are a great source of wealth for this country."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2020.

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