Book Review: My Conversations With Canadians

My Conversations With Canadians

My Conversations With Canadians by Lee Maracle is a thoughtful journey across many topics central to Canada-Indigenous relations (or to use Maracle’s suggested term: Canada-Turtle Islander relations).

I loved this book. It was super approachable and a great education for a non-Turtle Islander like myself, challenging many preconceived ideas.

Maracle recounts conversations she has shared with Canadians ranging in time from the 1970s to the present. She will often linger over questions posed to her by non-Indigenous Canadians, turning the question around for the reader and instead exploring the biases of the questioner - what assumptions do they already have in place, in order to even ask that question? Really eye-opening and I enjoyed this style thoroughly.

For many questions, I also enjoyed how she would confess to the reader how she really wanted to reply, then share what she actually responded with. I admire her grace in what must have been some astonishingly ignorant or rude questions! (And I confess to being one of those ignorant people myself who might be heading along those same lines)

The conclusion I have come to through all of these experiences is that Canadians don’t know much about us.

And:

Education is a cultural process and, of course, the education citizens receive in Canada is all about British contact with Indigenous people and the development and maintenance of Canada. No one studies what was here before in any serious way. It is as though the 150-year history of Canada is far more significant than the 15,000 years previous.

That is a sobering thought and so very true. I certainly did not retain much in the way of Indigenous history or knowledge from my Canadian education. That probably means there are at least a generation of people, if not more, who likely have no clue, really (other than stereotypes).

Maracle does a good job of imparting the full richness of Turtle Islander culture to her readers, a culture dismissed by settlers, but nevertheless whose influence can be seen on today’s world (although that goes unacknowledged).

It’s humbling to think of all the things we missed learning about in school. What a curriculum it would have made!

I was brought up in story. No one disciplined me by spanking or scoldings; rather the old people watching me told a story and I was expected to figure out my behavioural issues from the story.

[…]

Just as I was raised on story, I brought my children up on story. We work with story. We begin with an old tale and, as we progress through the story, we tell it back different but the same, changing it so it becomes a modern new story.

Maracle also makes clear that being nice people doesn’t give Canadians a pass; she drives home that we are all actively complicit in the genocide of Turtle Islanders, quoting articles from the UN Genocide Convention to support her case. Ignorance may be bliss for some, but morally that stance just doesn’t hold up. We have a responsibility to educate ourselves on affairs that are being conducted in our name. It’s time for Canadians to get with it!

To paraphrase a statement in the book: de-colonization is not about how the Indigenous world fits into ours, but how we fit into theirs. With this in mind, I sample from Chapter 12 which describes the Turtle Islander belief system:

Humility is critical to recognizing and examining our failures, our mistakes, our contribution to broken relations […]

Courage gives us the determination to overcome our fear of self-examination, of admitting to our neglect. […]

Honesty teaches us to own our self

Let the above be a guide to us Canadians as we reach to build true relations with Turtle Islanders.

I would urge all non-Indigenous folk to pick up this book and see Canada differently.