Gwich'in woman publishing guide to reconciliation for non-Indigenous Canadians

A Gwich'in woman from Inuvik plans to publish a guide to help non-Indigenous Canadians start along the path of reconciliation.

Crystal Fraser's guide lists 150 acts of reconciliation Canadians can do

Gwich'in citizen Crystal Fraser, pictured during a spring picnic near Tsiigehtchic, is preparing a guide to help non-Indigenous Canadians reconcile with their Indigenous peers. (Juliet Bullock)

A Gwich'in woman from Inuvik plans to publish a guide to help non-Indigenous Canadians start along the path of reconciliation.

Crystal Fraser says the idea for the guide came out of interviews she did as part of the research for her PhD thesis on the history of residential schools in the Inuvik area. She has interviewed about 60 people in Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic, Fort McPherson and Inuvik.

Inspired by those voices, she decided to publish a special list for Canada 150 — a list of reconciliation acts any Canadian can do if they are ready to rethink their views about their Indigenous peers.

"One of the really great points is, register for the University of Alberta's online course called 'Indigenous Canada' and that is absolutely free," Fraser said.

"You (can also) support Indigenous authors by purchasing their books, but also understand why Canada 150 isn't really something for many Indigenous people to celebrate."

Though she never attended residential school herself, Fraser says her mother and grandmother's residential school experience is having an impact on her family. Fraser cannot speak Gwich'in and feels a sense of cultural loss.

Other acts include learning and acknowledging the First Nations whose traditional lands you live on, understanding why headdresses are not appropriate to wear as costumes or used as decoration.

'I am a visitor here'

Fraser said Canadians should understand and acknowledge that Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, was an architect of genocide.

"We also have to remember that some of our so-called Canadian heroes have a darker side to the story," she said.

Canada 150 celebrations have been personally tough on Fraser as she is not on her land but living in Edmonton, on Treaty 6 lands.

"I am a visitor here. It can be particularly hard because a lot of the teachings from my own community and elders you know... reconnecting with the land is quite an important aspect in maintaining your own health."

Sara Komarnisky is teaming up with Inuvik's Crystal Fraser to develop the guide to reconciliation. The two plan to release it on Friday. (Cheryl Croucher)

Fraser says the list is designed for people who already decided there is something to reconcile and that it is important in their lives. In the spirit of reconciliation, she created the list with Dr. Sara Komarnisky, a non-Indigenous Canadian who is researching the history of the Camsell Indian hospital in Edmonton.

Their list will be released on Active History's website on Friday, when 150 days will remain to celebrate Canada 150.

"We are asking Canadians to consider their own positions, we are asking them to rethink their everyday world view. And that can be a hard thing to do," acknowledges Fraser.

The Gwich'in student hopes to finish her thesis on residential schools in the Inuvik region between 1959 and 1996 next summer.

"In Canadian history, so often, the voices of Indigenous people are either excluded or historians will prioritize archival documents and the written word of non-Indigenous people over our people. So I was looking to provide a new perspective."