September 29, 2021
I wish to start by stating that I am writing this as a non-Indigenous person. It is not my intent to represent any views or speak on behalf of anyone. I also wish to acknowledge that I am writing this from the unceded territories of the Metis, Blackfoot, Tsuu T’ina, and Ktumax nations. I acknowledge the privilege of being able to live and work on this land, and offer my commitment to continue to read and listen to Indigenous stories, continue to learn, and share my words, however they may help.
September 30 is the National day for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a day meant for reflection and to honour the children and survivors of the residential school system, their families, and communities. It is a day to recognize the truth—I’m not sure we’ve sorted out the “reconciliation” aspect yet.
In the collection of stories, In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth & Reconciliation, editor Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail shares in her introduction a story about a meeting she attended. It was hosted by Miranda Jimmy, “a young Cree organizer and community leader” During the meeting, Jimmy shared her worry that “the TRC would be all political rhetoric and no real change. I remember, when I read this book in 2017, agreeing with the sentiment.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established in 2008 and concluded in 2015: by 2017, any momentum to act on the many reports created by the commission seemed to have stalled. I do not mean to discount those who strived to keep the conversation in the headlines, and I don’t mean to discount any of the positive work that was done in the years following the TRC—but with no federal election approaching, and no nation-grabbing headline that is too often (unfortunately) needed to thrust important issues into the national conscious, the idea of truth and reconciliation was not at the forefront of many minds.
Indigenous Stories: Learning as a First Step
This is where stories come in. In This Together was created to bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices to “investigate their ancestors’ roles in creating the country we live in today and how we might move forward together in respectful partnership.” This is just one example. Stories—oral, written, or visual, fiction or non-fiction—are an essential component of truth. It is may cliché to say that art holds a mirror up to our world, but that doesn’t make the metaphor invalid. Every story is a voice, and every voice has a story to tell, an experience to share, whether it is shared through the lens of fact or fiction. Sure, not all stories are created equally, but the more we, as consumers of narrative, open ourselves up to unfamiliar stories, the more opportunities we have.
I was not exposed to much Indigenous literature in my school days. A book that lingers in the periphery of my mind is Eric Walters’s Visions. Walters, as far as I could find, is non-indigenous, but Visions contains a key character, Anarteq, an Inuit man, and through him Walters blends the contemporary Arctic setting with Inuit stories to create an interesting, horror-esque atmosphere. This Quill & Quire article notes that Walters provides no sources for the Inuit stories included in the book. Why bring this up? Growing up in Ontario in the 90s, when our young reading lives were predominately curated by the whims of Scholastic, this is what passed as Indigenous literature: good books with good intentions but coated in second-handedness.
Compare this to Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach. I came across this novel as I was falling in love with Magic Realism. It is one of the novels that has informed that aspect of my writing. More to the point, like Visions, Monkey Beach blends the contemporary with the spiritual world, but does so with more authority.
Monkey Beach follows Lisamarie, who is Haisla like her author, a teenager searching for her missing brother. She is visited by shapeshifters and experiences premonitions, tormented by an ancestral past she tried to distance herself from. From Lisamarie’s story to the subplot about her Uncle Mick’s activism, Monkey Beach introduced me to a culture I was woefully unfamiliar with.
Stories as Truth
Stories are the gateway to tradition and culture, but also truth. There have been many books—fiction and non-fiction—about residential schools. Some of the more well-known ones are Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse and Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians. These, and many other poems and stories, are a powerful tool for the “truth” of Truth and Reconciliation. Not an easy read, but important to sit with in discomfort. Of course, with fictionalized accounts, such as Indian Horse, there is a temptation to remove the experiences portrayed from reality.
The belief that “thousands of children died from starvation and abuse in a school can not be an accurate representation of my country” is why writing and reading these stories is essential. Call it a paradox if you want, but I believe that fiction is the best path to truth in the face of (subconscious) cognitive dissonance.
Truth and Understanding
I know I make no great impact on reconciliation when I read these works. But more familiarity with Indigenous cultures, lives, and struggles is a path to “truth and understanding” (which, in my opinion, would have been a more successful name for the commission).
September 30 is a day to remember the tragedy of our country’s past when it came to how Canada treated its Indigenous Peoples. It is important, as part of truth and understanding, to take the time to reflect on the systems that were put in place to allow this to continue for one-and-half centuries, the system that still exists that leads to inequality, that leads to a disproportionate amount of missing and murdered Indigenous girls and women—and what small or large actions we can take to reconcile these systematic injustices.
But, along with this important work, today, tomorrow, or in the near future, I encourage you to read or listen to Indigenous stories, if for no other reason than because many of them are unique and beautifully written, and you may be missing out.
A Few Resources
For anyone writing in the Indigenous space, Gregory Younging’s Elements of Indigenous Style is a must-have.
A Knock on the Door is an abridged and accessible version of the lengthy TRC.
For a more succinct read, here are the TRC’s Calls to Action
Finally, the Indigenous community on TikTok has been a nice surprise for me: a nice source of diverse voices and ideas, such as this video.
If you have a resource that you think may be beneficial to the reading and writing community, leave it in a comment below.
And as always
Thanks for reading.
 Metcalfe-Chenail, Together 1.
 Ibid 2
 ibid 3