Publication Date: September 19, 2017 by Orca Book Publishers
I was fortunate to be able to read a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. (I had to find a hard copy to read as the ebook just doesn't work with all the text features.)
Monique Gray Smith explores Reconciliation in four main sections. In the first she looks at why a reconciliation journey is necessary. In the second, she analyzes Canadian history with respect to Indigenous peoples. In the third section she examines where we are at now. The fourth component queries just what reconciliation might mean and what it entails.
I appreciate the layout of this book. it's full of different nonfiction text features. There are plenty of captioned photographs. Different coloured sidebars are filled with different kinds of information. Indigo inserts provide additional information. Green inserts explain vocabulary. A map shows the location of all the residential schools in Canada. Reflection pieces, composed of text within orange circles, asks readers to contemplate what they have just read. Each section is highlighted with titles and subtitles. Words in bold print can be found in the glossary at the end of the book. The back matter also includes acknowledgements, online resources, a reading list, a list of residential schools, an index and information about the author.
Even though this is book for intermediate and teen age children, don't assume it's an easy read. While it doesn't reveal the graphic details of the abuse suffered by so many children, I was still forced to put the book down at times and take a break. Granted, I have listened to the first hand accounts of survivors and survivors of survivors. Perhaps it's this background knowledge that made reading it difficult, but I suspect that if you are human, you would be troubled. It's not a comfortable topic.
While I thought I knew a lot about residential schools, I was still suprised by information in this book. Given todays attitudes around accumulation as wealth, I found this sentence particularly profound, "Wealth was often determined by how much a person or family could give away and share with other families and community members." If only we determined wealth like this today. I knew that these schools had been around for a long time, but hadn't put put the 165 years into the context of seven generations of children being taken away from their parents. Sherman Alexie, in his book, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, claims that if you wanted to create as dysfunctional a society as possible, you would take the children away from their families, subject them to all kinds of abuse, return them home again, and repeat for generation after generation. Monique Gray Smith shows us what this looks like in reality.
In the last section when the author speaks to what reconciliation means, I had a hard time. I agree that love and mutual respect have to be in the solution, but it seems simplified. I want direct action. I especially appreciated the words of Carey Newman, "When you read the definition of reconciliation, it is one of coming back, the reinstatement of the relationship. I have a problem with that because there wasn't really good relationships to begin with, so let's call it conciliation." As I think about reconciliation in the context of living in Canada today, I’m certain that doing nothing about lack of safe drinking water on reserves, underfunding indigenous education compared to that of other children, ignoring indigenous rights and land claims, (as with the Site C Dam and oil pipelines,) is not only NOT reconciliation, it’s a continuation of the system that brought it in. We have a long way to go before we really come to a place where the human rights of indigenous peoples in this country are respected. Until we get there, we aren't close to conciliation.