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In This Together: First Nations Colonization Re-examined

A Book Review
Volume 30, Issue 10,11 & 12, December 21, 2016

Sam Margolis, Victoria

Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation, General editor Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, Brindle & Glass Publishing Ltd., CDN $19.95

     Imagine, fifteen distinct and diverse Canadian voices – First Nations, transplanted New Zealanders, grandmothers, radio personalities – come together for a forum, each given five minutes to discuss a painful legacy in Canadian society, a legacy not yet relegated to a distant history: the treatment of indigenous children in residential schools and the ensuing Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  
     In This Together, published shortly after the commission ended in December 2015 and compiled and edited by multi-genre author and current historian-laureate of Edmonton, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, presents a possible transcript of that forum. And the book delves into a broader, more profound definition and discussion of truth and reconciliation. 
     One could swipe all the synonyms for “horrible” from Roget’s Thesaurus and still not adequately express the first utterances an engaged reader's would have to the insensitivity, the tone-deafness, the ambivalence and too often contempt First Nations, Métis and Aboriginal people have had to endure throughout their lifetimes and the lifetimes of their forbearers.
     Still, if anything, Metcalfe-Chenail – by deftly harnessing a wide range of geographical, ethnic and historical perspectives – provides us reasons to be optimistic, amid some very difficult things to ponder.  Such as one of the many challenging questions put forth by historian Rhonda Kronyk in her essay “White Aboriginal Woman” regarding the state of homelessness among the First Nations, the rates of Native population in the prison systems, the broken promises from authorities and the misrepresentation of historical record.
     Yet Kronyk writes, “In the midst of disillusionment, I see hope for our future ... I see ways to move forward in reconciliation rather than recrimination.”
     There are many poignant, thought-provoking points in this collection:  Shelagh  Rogers conversation with Justice Murray Sinclair, Joanna Streetly’s personal and, at times, heartrending reflections in her essay  “Dropped, Not Thrown” and Zacharias Kunuk’s bewilderment on the absence of the Inuit story on the CBC.   
     Writer and poet Erika Luckert, muses on that “powerful tool of colonialism”: maps.  “A map,” she writes, is like a story. And those who make the map determine the story that will be told.”  
     Ethnographer Lorri Neilsen Glenn cites a January 22, 2015 Maclean's article – “Canada’s race problem? It's even worse than America’s.” – which  displays the grimmest of statistics:  a tenfold incarceration rate amongst Aboriginal people compared to the general population, 2.7 times higher dropout rate, 6.1 higher unemployment, a much higher infant mortality rate, lower life expectancy.
     Due to the remoteness of many Aboriginal communities, Neilsen Glenn writes, they are “largely invisible” to most Canadians.
     A saying I often repeat to myself comes from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a 20th century theologian and philosopher,  who said, “The opposite of good is not evil, the opposite of good is indifference,” May this book offer a way to shed our indifference, so that reconciliation  will indeed take place.
     Or as lawyer Steven Cooper reflects, “when every Canadian, no matter their heritage, accepts what colonialization did to our First Nations, only then will our country be whole – an entire nation healed.”