Book Thug, 2017
ISBN number: 978-I-77I66-358-8
Reviewed by Crystal Martin
My Conversations with Canadians is a collection of non-fiction essays by novelist Lee Maracle examining coloniztion and its effects on Canada’s First Nations, counterbalancing colonial myths and exposing cultural stereotypes perpetuated by media. It also discusses, globalization, global warming, exploitation of First Nations cultures and natural resources by multinational companies dominating industries where First Nations people are often under- or unemployed, and the differences between First Nations and European worldviews.
“First Nations” is cited as the “least insulting name in a long line of insulting names”; in fact Maracle examines how collective names like First Nations are inherently racist. Maracle is Sto:lo, Coast Salish.
The book is organized chronologically. Each of the 13 chapters discusses a unique issue or personal story relating to the effects of colonization. Maracle begins with a history lesson: “Canada took all the land but the reserves it set aside for us. You cannot give someone something that already belongs to them.”
Private ownership was not a part of traditional First Nations cultures. Placing dollar value on the land, written information, and other material assets enabled Canadians to gain possession over resources rightfully belonging to First Nations. Today, First Nations must advocate for “the safeguarding of our knowledge, customs, stories, songs and dances.”
Maracle explores First Nations’ family structures, fundamentally different from Europeans’, and how they were shattered by the introduction of residential schools. She shines a light on marginalization, insensitivity, cultural apathy, exploitation, homophobia.
Maracle contrasts how the First Nations’ worldview places them at the centre using the medicine wheel. All elements of life are interconnected and support one another. Alternatively, the Canadian worldview is a pyramid, with mankind dominating at the top. Maracle argues the European-Canadian worldview as enabling mankind to exploit natural resources, causing today’s global environmental challenges. “Rather than looking at where we are in the hierarchical order of things, we should look at our responsibility toward preserving the lives we are dependent upon.”
Finally, in this moment of Truth and Reconciliation, she says First Nations assimilation in the residential schools is as “an act of genocide no less serious than those experiments the Nazi performed on Jewish children.” Maracle identifies assimilation programs that continue today in the form of high cost foster care, adoptions, and child apprehensions.
Maracle has written and co-edited many books including: Sundogs, Ravensong, Sojourner’s Truth and Other Stories, Bobbi Lee –Indian Rebel, Daughters Are Forever, Will’s Garden, Bent Box, Memory Serves, I Am Woman, and Talking to the Diaspora. Maracle teaches Oral Traditions in the Aboriginal Studies Program at the University of Toronto and has been a Traditional Teacher for First Nation’s House and at the Centre for Indigenous Theatre. Maracle has been a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the universities of Toronto, Waterloo, and Western Washington.
Maracle’s first-person voice is casual and conversational, humbly educating us about Canada’s past mistakes so we can work collectively with First Nations communities to achieve a more compassionate and equitable future.