The Final Report of The Truth & Reconciliation Committee released its recommendations over three years ago. In #53 section 4, the Committee asks the government to “Promote public dialogue, public/private partnerships, and public initiatives for reconciliation.” We took that call to action seriously and for the last three years have had quarterly seasonal gatherings on Sunday afternoons upstairs at The Bookshelf with our Indigenous and Non-Indigenous neighbours.
Our very first assembling attracted many people because our guests were John Ralston Saul and Tom King. Last year we were lucky enough to hear Tanya Talaga talk about her book Seven Fallen Feathers, a work of investigative journalism into the deaths of seven young indigenous youth in Thunder Bay. She won the RBC Taylor Prize for this. But many of our gatherings have had local Indigenous and Non-Indigenous educators, medical practitioners, or social justice workers who have a wealth of experience.
Circles are an important ritual and symbol in indigenous culture. They are not hierarchical and this speaks volumes. For each gathering, an idea or experience is introduced by an elder, or one of our guests. This is all done in a circle where people can listen, learn, gather their thoughts and discuss. After the speaker(s) are finished, an eagle feather is passed around. When it is your turn, you hold the feather while you speak your truth. It is not necessary to speak but most people do.
I have been touched by the power of these intimate circles and find that I can’t quite find the words to describe my feelings. Perhaps I should learn Ojibway, where there is most likely a word to describe my new understanding. Until I do, I recommend attending for yourself.
Last Sunday, the discussion revolved around transformation. Although there is still so much that needs to be addressed, the Indigenous folks who spoke thought that there had been some positive change, which they were happy about. But at the same time, everyone felt that real reconciliation will not happen until many more people know the truth about the residential school system and its terrible repercussions, the racism and hardship endured by our Indigenous citizens, and, most importantly, until we all revere mother earth with the respect that is the very basis for all Indigenous teachings.
From my bookselling vantage I only have to look on our Awards Table to see the literary burgeoning of Indigenous writing across Canada. Maskaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age has just won the Governor General’s Award for Non-Fiction. Split Tooth by the amazing Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist. Heart Berries: a Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot is a finalist for the Hilary Weston Rogers Trust Prize for Non-Fiction. Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead, was another Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist Nominee. This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt won the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize. Tanya Talaga has written this year’s Massey Lecture, All Our Relations. You can hear her lectures on CBC every night from November 12 to 16.
And there are many, many more First Nations, Metis and Inuit writers who have vital and essential stories to tell. They are leaders—reminding themselves and us not to forget the call of their ancestors. Take up the advice of the Truth & Reconciliation Committee and follow these writers. You won’t be sorry.
Our next Truth & Reconciliation Gathering will be February 2019. All are welcome!