When I read about what is happening in Nova Scotia today, when I read about the racism that is being perpetuated, the ineffective and insufficient work of the RCMP and the systemic injustices that continue today, my heart feels so heavy.
I grew up in Huron County. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to First Nations peoples. I don’t really remember learning anything about Canada’s original peoples from my schooling. It wasn’t until I was in my third year of university, taking a Post-Colonial Literature class, that I realized that Canada is a colonial country and started to learn what that actually meant.
Sure, I remember being in elementary school and hearing about this exciting adventure to “discover” Canada. Sure I remember there were some wars, but the dominant narrative I was taught was that this was an “uncivilized land” that was “discovered” and “conquered.” In my educational journey, I never once learned about the true realities of colonization, or of residential schools or of the genocide that took place and continues to take place right here in our own backyard.
I've been learning and educating myself about the realities of Canada’s colonial history, the devastating effects of residential schools, the 60s scoop, the Indian Act and the continued conflicts that take place because we do not know our history and we refuse to examine our own racism and prejudice here in Canada. We think that we are an amazing country, but that is only because we are blind to our injustices.
My main concerns are that:
1) Canadians do not know their own history and the version of history that we are taught is from the colonial, privileged perspective.
2) We are continuing to raise the next generation of Canadians who still do not understand our history.
3) We are ignorant of our own racism and must learn how to shut up, listen, feel, empathize and be willing to follow indigenous leaders and learn from them.
For two years, I taught Native Studies at a local high school and I was shocked by how many students in my classes had never even heard of residential schools. This was in 2018 and 2019. Canadian students are continuing to graduate without any idea of their history.
And without this understanding, without this ability to confront stereotypes, without this ability to explore different perspectives and think critically, that is where racism is born. And that is where it continues to live today, right here in our own backyard.
You see the fisherman in Nova Scotia reminds me a lot of some of the people I’ve met in Huron County, of some of my neighbours, colleagues and even friends. It’s easy to think that racism is “over there” or “in the city” and that we don’t have to confront our own inherent biases, stereotypes and prejudices. I think our apathy is just as dangerous as overt racism, if not more devastating.
But I have to believe that there are people out there who want to learn, who want to do better, who have the courage to explore difficult topics and confront the past. So if that’s you, I’ve put together a list of 5 of my favourite Indigenous authors, in hopes that you might be inspired to keep learning. The reason I love books so much is that they teach empathy, they reveal our connection, they have the power to bring us together. Here’s some great books to curl up with this fall and to continue learning, listening and feeling.
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. This is one of my all-time favourite books because it discusses Canada’s greatest love, hockey and our greatest horror, residential school. Wagamese’s writing is absolutely stunning, poetic and beautiful. If you want to learn more about Canada’s past, residential schools and racism, read this book. (The movie is good too, but the book, the book is worth the read).
My Conversations with Canadians by Lee Maracle. I was fortunate to hear Lee Maracle speak at the Alice Munro Literary Festival a few years ago. This book speaks the truth in a way that cuts through the bullshit as Maracle explains that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples is genocide. It’s not assimilation. It’s genocide. This is a key distinction that many Canadian scholars refuse to recognize, but that shows how colonial narratives continue to perpetuate today.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. This is a story of hope, despite internalized racism. Written for adolescents, Alexie confronts stereotypes and follows the life of a young indigenous boy who ventures off the reserve in search of a decent education, his search for identity and hope.
Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga. This eye-opening investigative journalism reveals the inherent racism of the Thunder Bay police and the murder of seven indigenous youth. I lived in Thunder Bay when this was taking place and Talaga does an amazing joy of setting the stage, explaining the racial divide and explaining how students from the north continue to have to leave their communities to seek decent education today that is not available in their community.
The Truth About Stories by Thomas King. This CBC Massey Lecture Series explores the truth about stories and how worldview is established in the stories we tell. King’s contrast of the origin story of Adam and Eve with the story of Charm, the skywoman who fell on the back of a turtle, presents a very compelling analysis of the contrast between indigenous and colonial worldviews. Worth checking out.