Jules' Tools for Social Change: In This Together: interviews with anthology contributors
April 11, 2016
by Julia Horel
Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author, or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics. This month’s featured title is
In This Together, an anthology of stories of truth and reconciliation from
Brindle & Glass Publishing, edited by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail.
Welcome to this month’s edition of Jules’ Tools for Social Change, a column that features a book, author, or publisher whose work deals with issues of race, gender, sexuality, ability, colonialism, economic justice, or other social justice topics.
“What is real reconciliation? This collection of essays from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous contributors from across Canada welcomes readers into a timely, healing conversation—one we've longed for but, before now, have had a hard time approaching.”
This collection of 15 stories strives to raise awareness and act as a call to action for all Canadians to work together toward reconciliation. I spoke with the editor, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, and two contributors, Katherine Palmer Gordon and Rhonda Kronyk, about the collection and their pieces.
Jules’ Tools for Social Change will be on hiatus for the next several months as I work on my own little world-changing project of having a baby and being on maternity leave. See you next year!
‘Til next time,
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Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, anthology editor
Julia Horel: What was the process of putting together this book? You mention in the introduction that you worked closely with Taryn Boyd at Brindle & Glass. How did you come up with the concept and how did you solicit pitches? Did you receive more pitches than you could use?
Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail: In March 2014, I had a telephone call scheduled with Taryn Boyd, associate publisher at Brindle & Glass. We'd been “set up” by a mutual friend in the publishing industry, Erinne Sevigny, who knew of our academic backgrounds around Indigenous and non-Indigenous histories, relationships, literature, etc. It happened to take place right when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was holding its national events in Edmonton, where I was living at the time, and our conversation kept circling back to how we could help move reconciliation forward. Taryn came up with the idea of a collection of essays centred on peoples' “aha moments,” and I loved the idea, even though I'd never edited an anthology like that before. It just felt like the right approach.
I created a little spiel about the project and sent out a call for proposals through my networks in the fall of 2014 once I'd received a grant from the Edmonton Arts Council. I sent lots of emails to anyone I thought might be interested—or know someone—and posted on Twitter and Facebook. By December 2014 I had received about 50 thoughtful proposals, knowing I could only accept around 15.
JH: Did you aim to have a balance of Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices in this collection? Does having a mix of voices reflect the need for collaboration among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people to achieve reconciliation?
DMC: We sure did. We'd agreed ahead of time that we really wanted about half from Indigenous folks and half from non-Indigenous folks, and we wanted them to be as geographically diverse as possible in Canada. As an intersectional feminist I also tried looking for balance in other ways. I did my best and I think we had incredibly strong proposals to choose from, so I was very lucky! But I know it's not perfect. It's adding one more piece to the conversation.
I truly believe that reconciliation is critical for all Canadians—it's not just an Indigenous issue—so I wanted to help bring people together in conversation. It will require collaboration from everyone: Indigenous, non-Indigenous, Euro-Canadian settlers, “new Canadians.” As several people have told me, we are all treaty. We all benefit from the treaty-making that happened in much of this country (and being able to live on unceded territory in other parts of the country). So whether our ancestors were there in the 1800s or someone came last month, we should all be invested in this process of reconciliation.
JH: In your introduction, you discuss learning about indigenizing writing, editing, and publishing. You also refer to the decolonization process, which includes making space for different ways of knowing and being. What do the terms indigenizing and decolonizing mean? How are they different?
DMC: A great question and one I've pondered alone and on Facebook with my talented academic friends from various fields such as Patricia Barkaskas and Claire Thomson. My understanding is that they can be interconnected in many ways, but are different. Decolonization can happen anywhere that colonization took place—India, Africa, etc. You could talk about Canada's breaking away from Britain's colonial yoke—and now how First Nations, Inuit, and Métis are pushing back against their colonial relationship with the Federal government. You are, at the core, challenging the dominant narrative of the colonial project being good, natural, or inevitable.
Indigenizing to me is about bringing in worldviews and ways of knowing and being from Indigenous groups into our systems or practices. So you might structure a class differently, bring in Indigenous Traditional Knowledge into a research project, or be guided in your policies and actions by an Indigenous Elder. It can also inherently destabilize colonial assumptions and institutions—therefore decolonizing them in the process. But it's a complicated question and, as my thesis supervisor Dr. Coll Thrush said, the boundaries between the two are “porous.”
JH: What do you hope readers will take away from this collection? Do you have different hopes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous readers?
DMC: The mountain that Justice Murray Sinclair and the other commissioners pointed out really will take all of us climbing together in order to reach the top. I hope that readers will see the “micro”—the small scale and steps in the reconciliation process and be encouraged to keep going. We won't reach the summit quickly—some think it will take another 150 years to heal and undo past mistakes. To make progress, I think it will take lots of self-reflection on the part of non-Indigenous readers so we don't inadvertently repeat past mistakes with misguided good intentions, lack of knowledge, or wilful blindness. And what I've heard from Indigenous friends and colleagues is that they're happy to know there are settler allies out there listening and trying to take action in a respectful way. I hope all readers come away realizing that we really are all in this together.
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Katherine Palmer Gordon, "Mother Tongues"
Julia Horel: What made you decide to contribute to the collection?
Katherine Palmer Gordon: I have used every chance that came my way to write about reconciliation and contribute to a greater understanding of the issues, including numerous magazine articles over the last dozen years or so and my last book, We Are Born With the Songs Inside Us (Harbour, 2013). When I saw the invitation to contribute to this collection, it was impossible to resist.
JH: What was the process like for you?
KPG: I knew immediately that I wanted to write about language in the context of my own disconnection from my mother tongue, French, and how understanding the impact of that on me helped me immensely in understanding how significant cultural disconnection can be on well-being, and how much better people are able to relate to each other when they feel culturally strong and robust in their sense of their own cultural identity, including their ability to speak their own language. The story wrote itself in that respect. Danielle’s vision to create a collection of reconciliation stories placed in the personal context of each contributor’s experience was brilliantly conceived to make that possible.
JH: How can First Nations language education help with reconciliation and healing?
KPG: It has been proven beyond a doubt that language proficiency from an early age helps a child do well in all aspects of their educational path and in life. As our new Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould once told me, Aboriginal people have to have their feet in two worlds. When they feel confident in both, they will thrive. In any event, as I point out in my essay, how can Canada have a meaningful conversation about reconciliation only in English or French?
JH: What can Indigenous and non-Indigenous people do to help promote and support First Nations language education?
KPG: The Saanich peoples near Victoria, BC, have led the way in language revitalization with their active and ambitious program to support and expand SENĆOŦEN language education and learning for both early learners and adults. You can even download SENĆOŦEN on an app now! It is brilliant. Sadly, they’ve had to do it with very little government financial support but their commitment to the language has been massive and they have had some wonderful non-Indigenous supporters who have helped with everything from design of unique keyboards to the app. I think that if non-Indigenous Canadians could understand the immense value that mother tongue education has for everyone—not just First Nations—then we would all be putting pen to paper immediately to write to our politicians to demand funding for it. Value from a reconciliation perspective, a respect perspective, a healing perspective and—knowing some Canadians want to know what the financial impact would be—from that perspective as well. Healthy, well-educated children are less likely to end up in hospitals and prisons.
Above all, the moral case demands it. In the meantime, learn how to say “hello” in the local language, and “thank you.” What a lovely token of reconciliation that would be to people who deserve no less, and indeed, far, far more from us.
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Rhonda Kronyk, "White Aboriginal Woman"
Julia Horel: How did you come to submit a piece to this collection? What was the process like for you?
Rhonda Kronyk: I happened to see the Call for Papers asking writers to think about their “aha” moments around colonialism and reconciliation. These are things I had been thinking about, so I decided to submit a proposal that revolved around my Grannie’s and my application for Status under the Indian Act and the questions that came out of the application. The essay process was surprisingly painless: I took several hours to craft a proposal; a few weeks later I found out that my essay would be included in the anthology. I wrote several drafts and Danielle and I worked together to finalize it. The hardest part was waiting for the book to be released!
JH: What is Bill C-31 and how has it affected your family and your identity?
RK: Bill C-31 is a 1985 amendment to the Indian Act that brings the Act more into alignment with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill C-31 had three primary goals, but the one that affected my family sought to change the gender discrimination that was built into the Indian Act. Prior to the amendment, the Act removed Status from Indigenous women who married non-Indigenous men—that involuntary enfranchisement not only separated many women and children from their communities, but also wiped out their rights to band resources and prevented subsequent generations from applying for Status. In effect, the Indian Act almost guaranteed that Status First Nations peoples would eventually disappear in Canada. Bill C-31 addressed the discrimination, and allowed my Grannie and her children and grandchildren to get their Status.
Even before I actually used the Act to apply for my Status, it caused me to think more intentionally about my identity. I can’t remember when I became conscious that I am part Indigenous. Frankly, I didn’t particularly think about race except to think about the mix of backgrounds that make up my family: Ukrainian, German, British, French Canadian, Cree, and Dene. It was Bill C-31 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that got me thinking more carefully about the intersections between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Then I got my Status card and began to think about my identity in a new way—I suddenly realized that my application for Status gave the Government of Canada the right to determine my identity. That raised many questions for me.
JH: You ask a series of questions about what identity means and whether it comes from personal or outside sources such as government—are these questions rhetorical or do you have some answers? How do you see identity being defined going forward as Canada works toward reconciliation?
RK: While the questions I raised are not rhetorical, I don’t yet have many answers. I still identify as Canadian rather than Indigenous-Canadian or Ukrainian-Canadian or any of the many hyphenated labels I could use. I proudly tell people my background and embrace each aspect of it. I am certain, however, that identity is a personal choice.
Canada’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths. But that diversity also means that questions of identity are complicated. I’ve followed several discussions on social media about Indigenous identity and who gets to choose it: should it be the government under the auspices of the Indian Act, should it be bands who get to decide their membership, or should it be up to individuals? There are no easy answers, but I am confident that any government that professes to believe in reconciliation needs to remove themselves from the identity discussion. Governments cannot choose identity. I don’t know what will happen going forward, but I hope that Canada as a whole finally begins to understand that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples must be treated as every other person in Canada, and given the opportunity to decide their own destiny.
The Edmonton Public Library and Reconciliation in Solidarity Edmonton (RISE) helped launch the book as part of their Exploring Reconciliation series. Miranda Jimmy (co-host and co-founder of RISE) discusses the book with local contributors Steven Cooper, Carissa Halton, Rhonda Kronyk, and editor Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. Photo taken by Brad Crowfoot.
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