Nation, Nationalism and Terra Nullius

The Hudson’s Bay Company has put out a commercial to mark the coming Olympic Games and their “Official Olympic Collection.”

We were made for this

Here you will learn how “We arrived 340 years ago to a land of rock, ice and snow. We outfitted a nation of pioneers, explorers, and dreamers.”

As some colleagues have noted, this fits into the classic colonial vision and discourse of the continent being an “empty land” (terra nullius) that could be taken and “civilized” by the Europeans as even when the existence of First Nations peoples and the Inuit was acknowledged, their contribution did not matter as they had not “outfitted” the land.

Interestingly, no mention is made to the money made over many centuries by the HBC in trading furs and the emphasis is how they “outfitted a nation of pioneers.”

Sadly, after 340 years, nothing has changed and the colonial mindset lives on and is advertised nationally and globally.

In chatting with one of my students, I also realized that this commercial falls into the usual discourse of the “pioneer museum.” The commercial, like many small-town museums across Canada and the United States, depicts the valiant pioneers that built the country (usually Europeans, but with a multicultural hue thrown into the mix in recent decades). They will depict the land as largely empty and a harsh environment tamed by the valiant pioneers. The values attributed to them (hard work and courage) are then set as the model for present generations and future generations. It is a curated past projected into the future to define the contemporary nation.

As my student noted, it is never specified who the “We” is that is continually used in the commercial. Is it the Hudson’s Bay Company, its owners and workers, or is it the collective “We” of the nation?

We thus have a corporation creating a commercial to sell expensive apparel while participating in an act of nation building, defining that nation in terms of “pioneers, explorers, and dreamers” while there is not evidence of any First Nations or Inuit presence in this nation, even though the Hudson’s Bay Company profited from the trade in furs with the indigenous peoples of Canada for most of its 340 years…