'I may never know what it looks like': 'Uncomfortable truths' line road to reconciliation in Canada

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As Canada prepares to reflect on 150 years of colonization, imperialism and unfettered resource extraction, rabble journalist Phillip Dwight Morgan is interviewing key grassroots activists across Canada to identify what struggles will shape the politics in this country in 2017. Read his piece on Black Lives Matter TO here. This is the second part of his series.

When asked what "reconciliation" means to her, Indigenous writer and activist Nickita Longman offers a solemn and frank reflection: "I don't think our country is ready for reconciliation yet, and therefore, I may never know what it looks and feels like."

For Longman, there is still much work to be done before this country can begin to seriously talk about reconciliation. "One thing people often forget," Longman reflects in our email interview,

"is the truth that comes before the reconciliation. This means looking within. How do you actively benefit from your privilege? How do you contribute to colonialism? What are you willing to do with the benefits of your privilege to counter colonialism? A lot of people are not ready to face these things head-on despite how incredibly necessary and crucial they may be. We cannot and will not have reconciliation before facing some uncomfortable truths."

Uncomfortable truths.

This country is full of uncomfortable truths. In a March 2016 article titled, "When a taxi is no longer the safe ride home," Longman outlines the racism, violence, and harassment that Indigenous women face when getting into a taxi, as well as the resilience of women such as Brenda Redwood, a Saulteaux and Ojibway woman, who began driving Indigenous women around on her own and founded Regina Indigenous Safe Ride in response.

Longman, from George Gordon First Nation in Treaty 4 Territory, learned of the threats to Indigenous women's safety from an early age, "Growing up in the prairies as Indigenous comes with its complexities," Longman recalls. "Indigenous parents are forced to have complicated conversations with their children that non-Indigenous families couldn't even imagine. I knew from a very young age that as an Indigenous woman, I am to never walk home alone. That's always been the unsafe choice. But now, we've reached a point of such intense racism that even taxi cabs are unsafe."

Brad Wall and Justin Trudeau

Canada's colonial governments aren't helping. Longman cites Saskatchewan's sky-high incarceration rates for Indigenous people, who are 33 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Canadians. Meanwhile, she says, Premier Brad Wall's government is struggling with a $1.2 billion deficit.   

Wall prefers to stoke division and even xenophobic fears, Longman says, than confront the inequality facing his province's Indigenous communities.  Wall posted a video to Facebook on February 4 stating "Environmental protestors (sic) left their recycling behind. Interesting."

"This was perhaps his only statement he made in regards to Standing Rock," Longman states.. "This stirred the pot of racism in our province with racist, derogatory comments and inaccuracies regarding water protectors. Our province's leader slams the door to the working class, but happily holds it open for racism. Interesting."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's federal government has equally let down Indigenous communities, Longman says, despite the pro-Indigenous rhetoric of his election campaign.

"We see the lagging in the national inquiry to MMIW; we see the approval of two major pipelines; we see the inactivity to our children in care; we see no movement on our boil water advisories; we see no mental health support being offered to our isolated communities suffering from youth suicide. We see yet another government that has let us down while emboldening the fact that the colonial political system that has taken over doesn't leave much room for Indigenous voices.

"It is important to understand that Indigenous people are not asking for better treatment than the rest of Canada, we're simply asking for the same treatment across the board."

This last statement spawns a heaviness in my chest, a tightness near the sternum and just below the heart; it's a visceral response to an all-too-familiar refrain -- "We're simply asking for the same treatment" -- for racialized people in this country.

As a writer of colour, I, too, have pleaded for equal treatment only to have it misconstrued as a demand for better treatment than others. I see glimpses of familiarity in Longman's responses and, yet, it is abundantly clear that I do not understand her reality. I am not Indigenous. I am not a woman. I am not an Indigenous woman. In a overwhelmingly white media landscape, people of colour are often tokenized, with one or two people serving as surrogates for broader populations.

In "Why are male voices dominating the Boyden discussion?," Longman points out some of the many problems that arise when Indigenous women and two-spirited people are excluded from conversation. "You cannot discuss community with a disproportional amount of representation from our Indigenous women and two-spirited folks," she told rabble. "Intersectional voices are key to the inclusivity of Indigenous communities."

Nadine Maschiskinic

Currently, Longman is helping to raise funds to secure a lawyer for the family and community of Nadine Maschiskinic, "a murdered Indigenous woman, daughter, sister, niece and mother to four." As Longman recalls, " Maschiskinic's body was disposed of and found at the bottom of a laundry chute in a downtown hotel in Regina. She was taken to hospital and pronounced dead there, and the cops were not called until 60 hours after.

"Two separate coroner's reports had conflicting results saying she inserted herself into the laundry chute, while the other said there was no chance that she could. An inquest was announced shortly after and is set for the end of March. Her family, as well as the community standing in solidarity with them, are all waiting for results in hopes that it will bring justice to this case.

"In the meantime, it is crucial that we raise funds to retain the lawyer for a fair outcome. We have launched a gofundme page, and that took precedent first thing this year."  

Uncomfortable truths. Uncomfortable truths.

In addition to her writing, Longman has helped organize feasts, vigils, and round dances and has tied red ribbons to Regina's major bridges. Each of these initiatives, Longman asserts, is "a way of telling the families with a missing or murdered loved one that we have not forgotten about them as a community. We will take up public space in order to propel public discourse."

"By dragging these dark issues to the mainstream," she continues, "the faster the light can kill them." In this moment, despite her cagey responses, Longman seems hopeful. I can't tell from her response whether the "light" she is referring to is the exposing light of a muckraking journalist or a moral light of a concerned community member.

I don't know if it matters, to be honest, perhaps it's both.

Phillip Dwight Morgan is a freelance writer of essays and poetry and a PhD candidate in History at McMaster University. His research interests include urbanization, critical pedagogy, and Black consciousness. He views writing as an opportunity for self-discovery, emancipation and nourishment.

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Image: Nickita Longman

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