The words of truth and reconciliation need to be put into action

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"words are words, and words do not do anything when there is no action"

No matter who you are -- Indigenous or non-Indigenous -- the words truth and reconciliation can be hard to swallow.

When you hear the words over and over again, you begin to tire of what can be said, especially when these words seem to be popular in today's politics. These terms, truth and reconciliation, are based upon the actions and words of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was put together to deal with Canada's genocidal residential school system and its survivors. 

Aside from the work of the actual Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the words truth and reconciliation are now largely used as a tool to get Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to work together.

But words are words, and words do not do anything when there is no action.

Opening this book, In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation edited by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, meant that I had to put aside my own misconceptions and wariness about what more could be said about truth and reconciliation.

In This Together is supposed to be about truth and reconciliation and features 15 stories by various people from all walks of life. Some of the writers are Indigenous and others are non-Indigenous.

The stories touch upon moments in each writers' lives where they are suddenly faced with an epiphany in regards to Canada's colonial past and present and what reconciliation can mean to them.

Two stood out to me in particular, "Drawing Lines" by Erika Luckert and "This Many Storied Land" by Kamala Todd.

Luckert discusses the concept of how treaties can be seen as just words on a document and addresses how ineffectual treaty maps really are when it comes to treaties with Indigenous peoples. She writes about how treaty maps in general can be seen as perpetuating power and violence because they do not follow the lines they are supposed to.

Treaties according to Luckert are not just documents with words on them because the words serve as a colonizing power, stripping traditional lands away from Indigenous peoples with a few sentences.

I liked how Luckert distinguishes lines and maps as methods of power, colonization and violence, because when treaty maps were made, they were made through the colonizer's eyes. They did not include the viewpoint or the participation of the Indigenous people of the areas the maps were being drawn up about. 

At the time treaty maps were drawn up, many Indigenous people could not speak English as it was not their mother tongue. This meant that the words on a treaty map were not only foreign, much like the colonizers were to them, but the words were used as a boundary -- much like the reservation system the Indigenous people of Canada have had to put up with.

"It was the words that cut the land away. They hung there on the page like a loose lasso, a string of words that, on such a scale, looked more like a rope that you might use to tie someone up and drag them away," Luckert writes.

In "This Many Storied Land," Todd asks two very important questions:  

1. How well do we know where we live, if our ancestors are elsewhere?

2. What do we have to go on?

Besides these questions she addresses the notions of work, commerce, leisure, home, and what are their meanings to us as individuals -- the offerings, the laws of the land, the depth of human, plant, and animal continuity.

She states "To live in someone else's traditional territory is to build new roots and homes, but not necessarily understanding. If we are not Indigenous to our place, we may be oblivious to just how deep the roots go, and how destructive city building has been to the land and to the people who have always lived there."

Todd's story made me think of my own misplacement from my own homelands of Peguis First Nation, which is north of Winnipeg, Manitoba and the largest reserve in Winnipeg. It had me thinking that because of the consequences of being a Sixties Scoop Survivor and being adopted out of my province that other than reading through books about Peguis' and Winnipeg's history and having one or two short visits there, I am still a stranger to my home community. Living in Toronto makes me a visitor on the lands of the people here in Toronto -- the Mississaugas of New Credit.

Many of the stories addressed within this collection are about identity, urban living, overcoming stereotypes and biases about Indigenous peoples, and change whether it begins with yourself as an individual or as a whole as a Canadian citizen. Reading about overcoming stereotypes and bias about Indigenous people is nothing new to me because I live with the stereotypes and misconceptions of Indigenous people every day as a Anishnabe kwe. 

Also it seems the contributors predominantly live in western Canada and the book fails to address all areas in Canada. It is disappointing because truth and reconciliation is being touted everywhere not just in the western provinces of Canada.

In This Together ends with an interview with Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner the Honourable Murray Sinclair, where he states: "We believe, as commissioners, very strongly in the idea that we are all treaty people in this country. Because this country was based on treaty and there are many Canadians who don't believe it because they've never been taught it. They think that Aboriginal people were lucky that Europeans came here and saved them from disappearing."

Aside from having evidence that proves otherwise, Sinclair also states "the people coming to this country need to understand they're coming to a country that has a relationship with the original people in this part of the world -- that they are taking on a responsibility for. And that responsibility is to maintain that relationship in a proper way."

Unfortunately, this book does not really change my misconceptions and wariness about truth and reconciliation because it rehashes knowledge that Indigenous people have known and passed on already, and/or things I have already known about truth and reconciliation.

What we need is action to these words, not another collection saying "We understand." We need action from all parts of Canada from Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous peoples alike. Then truth and reconciliation will become more believable. 

 It is a good start though.

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Christine Smith (McFarlane) is a Saulteaux First Nations woman, who hails from Peguis First Nation. She is a published writer and freelance writer for Anishinabek News on a regular basis. She has also contributed to other newspapers such as the Native Canadian,The Native JournalWindspeaker, New Tribe Magazine, and FNH Magazine. She is a contributing editor with Shameless Magazine, and a contributing writer for the Toronto Review of Books.


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