“We are looking for a partnership with Canada, while Canada is trying to hold on to a harmful and outdated colonial relationship.”

 – Arthur Manuel, Unsettling Canada

In the forward to Arthur Manuel’s Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call, Naomi Klein writes that “unprecedented coalitions are emerging to fight tar sands pipelines in British Columbia, fracking in New Brunswick, and clear-cut logging in Ontario. In these battles we are beginning to see the outlines of a new kind of relationship, based on nation-to-nation respect, not assimilation or merger.”

Unsettling Canada argues that grassroots Indigenous activism is becoming more effective all the time. It reveals how activists are beginning to see how their passion and power can push their way past the racism of a colonialist government, to where they can wrest control of their lives and their lands from the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, and to stop the ongoing attempts by Canada to dissolve treaties and engage in cultural genocide.

The book is part history, part memoir and part blueprint for Indigenous peoples’ relationships with Canada’s governments. It is a call to action for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. Immensely readable, it covers nearly 50 years of Indigenous activism and examines successful strategies and tactics  while acknowledging mistakes made. 

It is also a deeply personal story. Manuel recalls his upbringing on reserve in British Columbia’s interior, his politicization, and his growing leadership and organizing skills. It is a story about his father, George Manuel, whose community leadership impressed upon his activist son a vision of what was possible for Indigenous peoples and their relations with a succession of Canadian governments mired in the colonial mindset.

Looking down the path to future negotiations with the government, Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson writes in his afterword, “we have to take our future seriously, get rid of the opportunists in our ranks, and, when we deal with the government, be as tough with them as they have always been with us.” 

These are words of wisdom and of experience and something of a template for dealing with the Canadian government. Now more than ever Unsettling Canada is a must-read book. It chronicles a remarkable journey of activism while damning the racism of our government.

The babble book club is reading Unsettling Canada this month. Join the conversation here. Please note that if you don’t already have one, you need to open an account with in order to contribute to the discussion


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Meg Borthwick

Meg Borthwick (aka Rebecca West) is a babble moderator and has been a member of since 2001. She has a decorative liberal arts degree in Quoting Chaucer at Dinner Parties (English/Drama double...