Reconciliation or Redwashing: Petro-Canada's Indigenous Art Commissions

Yasmine Semeniuk

           In 2021 and 2022, Petro-Canada, an oil and gas company under the leadership of Suncore Energy, commissioned numerous Indigenous artists across Canada for two projects: to create murals for the exterior of Petro-Canada gas stations and to create a beaded version of their logo. These commissions, alongside the other artistic ventures, encompass the corporation’s ongoing attempts at “reconciliation.”1 In this paper, I will look at these uses of Indigenous art by an ex-Crown corporation oil company and evaluate their motives.2 First, through Shane Gunster, Darren Fleet, and Robert Neubauer’s 2021 publication “Challenging Petro-Nationalism: Another Canada Is Possible?” I will show how Petro-Canada’s “reconciliation” based social media campaigns take advantage of Canadians’ perceived interest in reconciliation. Then, using Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s 2012 publication “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” I will demonstrate how Petro-Canada is shirking meaningful reconciliation for social media likes and symbolic actions. In doing so, I will show how Petro-Canada’s artist commissions—specifically the beadwork program and its goals—fit inside Tuck and Yang’s concept of “settler moves to innocence.”3 Through these examinations, I will conclude that although Petro-Canada’s work may seem like a positive move towards reconciliation, one must reflect on who is actually benefiting from these campaigns. While engaging in this corporation’s “reconciliation-washing,” consumers may fall into their own moves to innocence.

           Over the last two years, Petro-Canada has taken an interest in commissioning Indigenous artists for two programs which would commemorate Canada’s first official Day for Truth and Reconciliation and celebrate Indigenous history month.4 The first program in 2021 was a Canada-wide mural program which commissioned works to be painted on six Petro-Canada gas stations across the country. The corporation’s aim for this program was to “provide space for Indigenous Peoples to share their experiences and history, and to reclaim their identity, language, culture and nationhood through our network of sites.”5 Six Indigenous artists were commissioned for this project, which was also used on Petro-Canada’s social media sites where short, one-to-two-minute-long videos were posted with each artist commenting on their work. Alongside these shorter videos, the corporation filmed longer content which went into more detail on the project, highlighting the importance of their company’s initiatives. All of the corresponding coverage has a permanent home on the oil company’s website. The first year of this project created momentum that the company continued into 2022.

          In the project’s second year, Petro-Canada commissioned nine artists from across Canada to create beadwork versions of the corporation’s red and white logo.6 Each of the nine artists submitted one beadwork design. The end result of this commision was intended to be one work that would be “digitize[d] and use[d] throughout the year to acknowledge the history and experiences of Indigenous Peoples as well as celebrate our partnerships.”7 Although the artists have their statements and pictures posted on the website, no interviews or videos were filmed. The winning design was created by Ojibway artist Chenoa Plain.

Figure 1: Chenoa Plain, Untitled beadwork of Petro-Canada logo, 2022.

           Chenoa Plain’s design (Fig. 1) is made entirely out of small white, red, and black glass beads. The logo is sewn upon an unknown backing, indiscernible in the photo and unnamed in the description provided by the oil company. It depicts the highly recognizable, bicoloured Petro-Canada logo consisting of a white maple leaf on a red background, with several symbolic images beaded over and protruding out of the original logo—reminiscent of a stone relief. These images reflect the ongoing issues that Indigenous peoples face in Canada, while also embodying the hope that Plain has for the future.Due to the nature of the work, and that the viewer can only see it digitally, the details can be difficult to distinguish. By consulting a sketch that Plain submitted however, one can see the additions clearly (Fig. 2).

Figure 2: Chenoa Plain, Untitled sketch of the beadwork of Petro-Canada logo, 2022.

These additions have four main aims: to represent her Ojibway heritage; to “represent all the issues that [Indigenous people] are going through”; to showcase the relationship between Indigenous communities and Petro-Canada, and finally, to emphasize the “importance of creation.”9 I will now examine how Plain expresses these motifs with the beaded details. Firstly, to encompass Plain’s heritage, she includes distinct Ojibway floral designs on the top left of the design overlaid partially on the red background above the maple leaf and partially on top of the leaf itself. These florals, with five distinct flower heads and roots reaching deep into the maple leaf, are distinct in their creation as they “represent Anishinaabe people as well as the growing that we all do every day.”10 These roots demonstrate that the Anishinaabe peoples have deep claims to the land that Petro-Canada is controlling. Secondly, to demonstrate some of the difficulties that Indigenous peoples face, Plain includes hands and spirit circles in her work. Located across from the flowers, on the top right of the work, five small handprints climb up the background. Flanking the hands, six delicate “spirit circles” consisting of seven to eight beads in a circle with a single delicate bead in the center.11 Spirit circles are often used to show interconnectedness, and Plain explains that these spirit circles and handprints together here represent the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples and the children who fell victim to the IRS12 system across Canada.13 Linking these hands in the Petro-Canada logo leaves an ambiguity to the oil corporation’s place in this connection–are they part of a solution—helping Indigenous communities find their missing? Or were they part of the cause—a colonialist corporation seeking economic prosperity at any cost to the land and people? The third aspect of Plain’s symbolism represents “the relationship that First Nations have with companies like Petro‑Canada as they move towards Truth and Reconciliation with our people.”14 She conveys this by overlaying a tipi on the white maple leaf. The tipi has two distinct lines at the top of the leaf, two jagged lines at the bottom and an opening into the structure—beckoning the viewer to step inside. This illustrates Plain’s support of the collaboration between Indigenous communities and the oil cooperation. Interestingly, without Plain’s description, this section seems to depict the bow of a canoe protruding out towards the viewer, riding over tumultuous waters. Finally, in the fourth and final addition, a half circle of red beads sweeps across the top of the design behind the tip of the maple leaf. Plain notes the circle “represents the sun and the moon, recognizing the importance of Creation.”15 overarching line of creation looks over the rest of the work, keeping the land, peoples and connections all under its watchful eye. This may symbolize another watchful entity–Petro-Canada and its persistent ruling over the land.

After this work was chosen as the winner of Petro-Canada’s competition, Plain’s work was digitized by Katie Wilhelm (Fig. 3), a graphic designer from the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation at Neyaashiinigmiing.16

Figure 3: Katie Wilhelm, digital rendering of Plain’s beadwork of Petro Canada’s logo work, 2022.

Wilhelm recreated Plain’s work “dot by dot” by replicating individual beads on the digital plane, with the end result used on the Petro-Canada social platforms.17 Wilhem reflected on the project, noting that it evoked ideas of cultural appropriation, but she believes that the corporation “…has done the work and made the effort to meet Indigenous people on their terms.”18 From a viewer’s perspective, the digitized version of the beadwork conveys the details about as adequately as the photograph. However, as mentioned earlier, without the initial sketch, much of the minutiae of the beadwork is lost in both the photograph and digitized versions—being able to view the physical art in person would reveal much more. This brings to light the duality we see with Petro-Canada’s work in this area. On one hand they appear to be uplifting Indigenous art to a wider platform; on the other hand, the nature of this platform erases the intricacies of the art. How else could it be palatable for an oil company to invoke Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) or victims of IRS in their logo, without the blurring of the finer points? Although both Plain and Wilhem comment positively on Petro-Canada’s work towards reconciliation through the artist commissions, it is worth applying a more critical lens to the oil corporation’s motives.

           Petro-Canada’s interest in creating space for Indigenous art paralleled the creation of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Day in 2021. At that time, the company touted, “we have an opportunity to provide space for Indigenous Peoples to share their experiences and history, and to reclaim their identity, language, culture and nationhood through our network of sites.”19 On the surface, this seems like a positive attempt at reconciliation. Petro-Canada even describes their relationship with Indigenous peoples as “win-win,” stating “owning a Petro-Canada station helps the community financially” while at the same time ensuring that the company is “well-represented.”20 Petro-Canada goes a step further noting that the relationship brings “both our communities together.”21 These claims, while hard to substantiate, are a common tactic among oil corporations at improving their image, and gaining trust with the public. Shane Gunster, Darren Fleet and Robert Neubauer’s research looks at the marketing of oil companies as a “public good” and note the “appropriation and instrumentalization of Canadian national identity” as a means of dismissing “critics as anti-Canadian.”22 The researchers note that:

“such themes have also become ubiquitous in social media… the single most predominant theme in such communication,  a ‘Canadian public interest frame’… explicitly positions the fossil fuel industry as providing benefits to all Canadians and the country as a whole.”23

Petro-Canada’s social media feed takes a slightly different tactic. Rather than selling oil as a “Canadian interest,” Petro-Canada is capitalizing on the interest of Canadians in reconciliation, and using the momentum of the movement to paint themselves as morally good. As Gunster, Fleet, and Neubauer discovered, oil companies’ social media posts “were filled with iconic events, places, people, activities and objects designed to invoke sentiments of national pride and then graft these emotions on to the fossil fuel sector” (Gunster et al., forthcoming).”24 Petro-Canada adopts this practice with their “reconciling” inspirational content highlighting Indigenous peoples and how they live in harmony with an oil corporation. By showing relationships between the company and Indigenous communities, Petro-Canada tries to break down the notion of company vs. person, and instead tries to invoke a sense of community building. This is highlighted in their most recent social media video published on September 23rd 2023, for Truth and Reconciliation Day.25 The video shows an Indigenous woman wearing, speaking about how honored she is that Petro-Canada reached out to her to create a mural. It attempts to invoke in the viewer feelings that Petro-Canada–and therefore their customers–are working towards reconciliation.

           Promoting values as a company which parallel social shifts can enhance their image, but when these values are disingenuous to the actual work the corporation does, this process is described by Clayton Thomas-Müller as redwashing:

Redwashing… an attempt by a corporation to paint itself as “benevolent”—a good neighbour— [i.e.] through sponsorship schemes for Indigenous education, art and culture. It is the process of covering up the detrimental effects of corporate initiatives with friendly slogans and lump sum donations to Indigenous communities.26

This definition of redwashing puts a political lens on the social media and artistic commissions of Petro-Canada. This illusion of benevolence can be difficult to critique, especially as a non-Indigenous person, as I do not want to undermine programs that support Indigenous peoples and promote their culture. This particular redwashing by Petro-Canada seems obvious enough to comment on, however I will use the work of Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang to show how Petro-Canada falls flat in their attempts towards reconciliation via their moves towards settler innocence.

Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang’s 2012 article, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” can be understood as a pedagogical tool in which the authors discuss the full implications of decolonization, something that they believe may not be fully grasped by their intended audience. Within the text they demonstrate that decolonization is more than a conceptual approach to reconciliation, and rather it is a specific action: dispossessing land. To illustrate their point, they examine ways settler colonialists diminish their guilt. The authors acknowledge that their ideas are not friendly, stating they, “require a dangerous understanding of uncommonality.”27 call for action may seem radical, but the analogies they use to argue for it make salient points. The elements I will ground my argument around are the various “settlers moves to innocence” that Tuck and Yang discuss. These moves are ways in which settlers “problematically attempt to reconcile settler guilt and complicity, and rescue settler futurity.”28 I will examine three moves to innocence and how Petro-Canada’s efforts can be classified within; settler nativism, settler adoption fantasies, and “free your mind and the rest will follow.”29

The first move to innocence the authors discuss is settler nativism. This is when settlers try to find or lie about Indigenous ancestry in order to make themselves feel as part of the minority group—and not as the oppressor.30 The settlers are able to deflect settler colonialist identity while still harboring the privilege of being white and living on stolen land guilt-free. Petro-Canada exemplifies this settler nativism throughout their social media posts which emphasize Indigenous owners of various gas stations. Sometimes this emphasis is on how the company financially supports Indigenous people, such as this this quote from Kukpi7 Rosanne Casimir, the chief of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Band: “We want our business investments to generate revenue that we can re-invest into new business opportunities for our members. The Tk’emlúps Petro‑Canada helps provide that revenue.”31 Other posts emphasize how the gas station is an important cultural spot within the Indigenous communities they serve; by selling “homemade bannock and Indian tacos” and “a variety of arts and crafts from local artisans from the community… such as moccasins, hand-beaded jewelry, artwork and handmade knives.”32 The way in which this information is curated on the company’s website and social media gives the impression that Petro-Canada is insinuating Indigenous ancestry in the corporation through Indigenous ownership of a franchise. Although this following quote was by Indigenous owner Carol Pechawis, Petro-Canada seems to be expressing the sentiment as their own, “We don’t necessarily celebrate Indigenous awareness month–we are Indigenous every day.”33

           The second move to innocence explored is settler adoption fantasies. In this attempt to free themselves of guilt, settlers adopt certain aspects of Indigenous culture, practices, and knowledge with the fantasy that “the Native (understanding that he is becoming extinct) hands over his land, his claim to the land, his very Indian-ness to the settler for safe-keeping.”34 This relates to Petro-Canada’s efforts particularly in their handling of Indigenous art. Firstly, Petro-Canada’s logo contest is an outright adoption of Indigenous beadwork practices—which has the effect of making their cooperation seem more Indigenous than it is. The efforts to “Indigenize” the red and white maple leaf logo can be seen as a way through which the corporation is freeing themselves of guilt by holding Indigenous art practices in a Western, capitalist context. The fact that the oil company’s logo itself is a colonialist symbol makes this contest even more vulgar. Furthermore, Petro-Canada notes repeatedly that they commissioned the Indigenous artists, implying financial compensation. However, their site lacks any financial information around this, leaving the public to wonder about the legitimacy and the fairness of their compensation. The beadwork contest, paired with the Indigenous murals on the exterior of the corporation’s non-Indigenous owned gas stations, creates a false narrative—one that suggests that Petro-Canada is a holder of Indigenous knowledge, practices, and culture, and therefore consumers can feel less guilt in purchasing their products.

           Tuck and Yang’s fourth move to innocence is “free your mind and the rest will follow.”35 In this move, settlers believe that being open to the idea of decolonization and freeing their mind of colonization is enough. Although this is the step in the right direction, this is unfortunately not enough to disrupt settler colonialism.36 The authors make it clear that they are not trying to discourage readers who are critically conscious about social justice issues, but instead want to make them aware that it could be a move to innocence if further steps towards land retribution are not taken. Furthermore, it is in this move towards settler innocence from where we see decolonization as a metaphor emerge. This relates to Peto Canada’s efforts in how the corporation continuously boasts of its Indigenous owned and operated retail and wholesale marketing locations, but in reality only an underwhelming 3.33 percent are in the hands of Indigenous communities.37 This is not to dismiss the importance of some of Petro-Canada’s attempts towards reconciliation, but it is simply not enough. As stated by Tuck and Yang, “decolonization specifically requires the repatriation of Indigenous land and life.”38 Unfortunately, as demonstrated in Burgess’s article, Indigenous peoples “are the most frequent targets, not only of the petro-security apparatus [the national protection of oil products], but also of state violence, which conveniently allows the state to reassert its territorial sovereignty over Indigenous land.”39 As an ex-crown corporation, Petro-Canada is the owner of important land that could be non-metaphorically dispossessed. However, in a move towards settler innocence, the company refuses to give up their control over Indigenous land, but have (or more likely: display through social media) a mindset that is “open” towards reconciliation. Despite Indigenous owned and operated locations, the true product of the company, the oil and gas, is still extracted, transported, and sold on and through Indigenous land, putting the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous communities at risk. Elder and former chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Pat Marcel, notes:

Oil sands development…had devastating effects on our people. We are afraid to drink the water or eat the fish from the river as we have always done. The fish have strange tumours, and cancer rates in our community have increased dramatically in the last 10 years.40

Simply allowing Indigenous communities to own and operate Petro-Canada gas stations is not enough to disrupt settler colonialism—rather, it plays into Tuck and Yang’s fourth move to settler innocence. Instead, major changes need to be made to the extraction and transportation of oil products, while also ensuring land is returned to Indigenous communities.

           Petro-Canada’s Indigenous art programs, while seemingly innocuous or even beneficial for Indigenous artists, need to be reflected on as to whose interests are being prioritized in these campaigns. As Gunster, Fleet and Neubauer note, oil companies’ marketing made a turn towards patriotism as a value, which became difficult to fault. Petro-Canada seems to have shifted their marketing slightly from this turn, towards a more leftist emphasis on reconciliation—which is equally difficult to criticize. However, Tuck and Yang show how to spot colonialists who may be misappropriating Indigenous values—those who might come across as innocent, but in reality are redwashing themselves for corporate benefit. In recognizing Petro-Canada’s missteps throughout this process, I would hope to see a push towards them actually dispossessing land. Without this action, consumers need to be aware that Petro-Canada is only using a metaphor of decolonization, and in supporting such a company, consumers are making their own move to settler innocence.

This academic essay is licensed under Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC 4.0.


[1] “Our Journey of Reconciliation,” Petro-Canada,

[2] An ex-crown corporation refers to a company that was once owned by the federal or provincial government, but has since been privatized.

[3] Eve Tuck and Wayne K. Yang, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 3.

[4] Honouring stories of reconciliation through Indigenous art,” Petro-Canada, September 29, 2022,

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Reimagining our logo through Indigenous beadwork,” Petro-Canada, July 12, 2022,

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Chenoa Plain, beaded logo artist,” Petro-Canada, September 27, 2022,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Following the work of Geoffrey Carr in his doctoral dissertation House of No Spirit: An Architectural History of the Indian Residential School in British Columbia, in 2011, I replaced the term “Indian Residential School” with “IRS.” Carr’s intention of using this abbreviation is to take away the connotation of an educational experience in these institutions. He states, “calling these carceral structures ‘schools’ suggests places of salubrity and self-improvement, a misnomer dampening the impact of this difficult history on non-Indigenous publics in Canada.” (p.1)

[13] “Chenoa Plain, beaded logo artist,” Petro-Canada, September 27, 2022,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Dot by Dot: Combining Traditional Indigenous Beadwork with Technology to Create a Unique Piece of Art,” Petro-Canada Stories, September 27, 2022,

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Honouring stories of reconciliation through Indigenous art,” Petro-Canada, September 29, 2022,

[20] “Building Trust and Credibility Through Our Indigenous Partnerships,” PumpTalk, June 15, 2023,

[21] Ibid.

[22] Shane Gunster, Darren Fleet, and Robert Neubauer, “Challenging Petro-Nationalism: Another Canada Is Possible?”Journal of Canadian Studies 55, no. 1 (Winter 2021): 57.

[23] Ibid, 61.

[24] Ibid, 62.

[25] Petro-Canada, “Tristen Jenni and her mural, “Healing” – Petro-Canada,” Facebook, September 25, 2023,

[26] Clayton Thomas-Müller, “We need to start calling out corporate ‘redwashing’,” CBC News, last modified March 20, 2017,

[27] Eve Tuck and Wayne K. Yang, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 35.

[28] Ibid, 1.

[29] Ibid, 19.

[30] Ibid, 11.

[31] “First Nations-owned Petro‑Canada Stations: A strong investment and source of pride,” Petro Canada, June 20, 2029,

[32] “First Nations-owned Petro‑Canada Stations: A strong investment and source of pride,” Petro-Canada, June 20, 2029,

[33] Ibid.

[34] Eve Tuck and Wayne K. Yang, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 14.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Suncor, “Journey of Reconciliation,” Suncor Sustainability: Indigenous Relations, accessed 27 11, 2023,

[38] Eve Tuck and Wayne K. Yang, “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 21.

[39] Olivia Burgess, “Reconciling Indigenous Exceptionality: Thinking Beyond Canada’s Petro-State of Exception,” Master’s thesis, University of Victoria, 2019: 96.

[40] “Northern Leaders Tour Oilsands, Downstream Environmental Risks Studied,” Pembina Institute, June 4, 2008,



“Building Trust and Credibility Through Our Indigenous Partnerships.” PumpTalk. June 15, 2023. nous-partnerships.html.

Burgess, Olivia. “Reconciling Indigenous Exceptionality: Thinking Beyond Canada’s Petro-State of Exception.” Master’s thesis, University of Victoria, 2019.

Carr, Geoffrey. “House of No Spirit: An Architectural History of the Indian Residential School in British Columbia.” PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2011.

“Chenoa Plain, beaded logo artist.” Petro-Canada. September 27, 2022. eaded-logo-artist.

“Dot by Dot: Combining Traditional Indigenous Beadwork with Technology to Create a Unique Piece of Art.” Petro-Canada Stories. September 27, 2022. bining-traditional-indigenous-beadwork-with-technology-to-create-a-unique-piece -of-art.

“First Nations-owned Petro‑Canada Stations: A strong investment and source of pride.” Petro-Canada. June 20, 2019. ned-petro-canada-stations-a-strong-investment-and-source-of-pride.

Gunster, Shane, Fleet, Darren and Neubauer, Robert. “Challenging Petro-Nationalism: Another Canada Is Possible?”Journal of Canadian Studies 55, no. 1 (Winter 2021): 57-87.

“Honouring stories of reconciliation through Indigenous art.” Petro-Canada. September 29, 2022. es-of-reconciliation-through-indigenous-art

“Northern Leaders Tour Oilsands, Downstream Environmental Risks Studied.” Pembina Institute. June 4, 2008.

“Our Journey of Reconciliation.” Petro-Canada.

Petro-Canada. “Tristen Jenni and her mural, “Healing” – Petro-Canada” Facebook, September 25, 2023.

“Reimagining our logo through Indigenous beadwork.” Petro-Canada. July 12, 2022. -logo-through-indigenous-beadwork.

Suncor. “Journey of Reconciliation.” Suncor Sustainability: Indigenous Relations. Accessed 27 11, 2023.

Thomas-Müller, Clayton. “We need to start calling out corporate ‘redwashing’.” CBC News. Last modified March 20, 2076.

Tuck, Eve and Yang, K. Wayne. “Decolonization is not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society 1, no. 1 (2012): 1-40.

Vol. 5 (2024)