Indigenous·Opinion

Joseph Boyden, just do good

Maeengan Linklater on coming to terms with Joseph Boyden's Indigenous heritage claims and the concepts of truth and reconciliation.

Truth and reconciliation is based upon the merits of our actions, writes Maeengan Linklater

For Maeengan Linklater, sharing a plate of nachos with beleaguered author Joseph Boyden is a step towards truth and reconciliation. (Penguin Random House Canada)

As many of you are aware, Joseph Boyden has had a rough month with the issue of his Indigenous heritage and identity.

He's been called out by a variety of people from across the country, including Indigenous writers who are close friends of mine. I have spent the past month reflecting and coming to terms with Joseph Boyden, how he relates to me, and how we go forward together.

I want to take this opportunity to share with you my experience and how to cultivate the goodness we all have together in order to continue the dialogue on truth and reconciliation from this Anishinaabe man's perspective.   

To be clear, I have shared the stage with Joseph Boyden on a variety of occasions and he came out in support of Bill C-318: An Act to establish Indian Residential School Reconciliation and Memorial Day in the form of an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail, "How Canada can take responsibility for its genocidal past," co-written with David MacDonald and Bernie Faber on the day the bill was introduced in Parliament on Oct. 31, 2016.

'Just do good'

For the past number of years, I have been on a personal journey of growth in which my goal has been to reconcile my personal ambition with ethical choice and actions. It has not always been that way with me, but in going forward I share with you a personal secret.

One of the most powerful teachings I received was from a respected Indigenous knowledge-keeper. I was going through a horrible time in my life. He sized me up and saw the sorry state and condition I was in at the time, and he said to me, "Maeengan, just do good."

That was it — that was his teaching for me.

Maeengan Linklater has lobbied both the province of Manitoba and the federal government to recognize the damages caused by Indian residential schools. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
I keep it close to me; I work to apply it in my professional and personal life because the outcome in doing so has resulted in more doors opening up for me. By doing good, you build trust and goodwill with people who are close to you and the people you conduct business with on a regular basis.

​Your actions define your character even if you don't feel it; it is the repetition of doing good that enables you to change for the better and it becomes easier to do so over a sustained period of time.

Acknowledgement

I can only speak from my own experience in which I have broken the trust in my personal and closest relationships. I have lied, cheated, and mislead the people who have loved me, but they continue to love me, and for that I am eternally grateful. You may ask why I did so, and I will freely admit I was selfish, egotistical and arrogant.

It is the reason why I am writing and sharing this piece on truth and reconciliation; it is an acknowledgement of my past and truth with a clear direction to what I want to aspire to through my actions, and that is to be a good person.

When Joseph Boyden was in Winnipeg this last weekend, we had a good chat over nachos while watching the Green Bay Packers game. We talked about Indigenous identity, "bread and butter" issues facing Indigenous communities, and what we can do together in making a difference for positive change for Indigenous peoples.

I will accept his declaration that he is a "white kid from Willowdale with Native roots."

​Time to repair

I publicly share my own experience and the teaching I received from the Indigenous knowledge-keeper with Joseph Boyden — and that is to "do good."

I would highlight Joseph Boyden regarding reconciliation at an interpersonal level as it relates directly to the Indigenous community and at a high level, toward a legislative framework for reconciliation between First Nations and Canada.

The notion of Indigenous/Canadian truth and reconciliation is the undiscovered country, waiting to be unveiled and achieved together.- Maeengan Linklater

It is going to take time to repair and to change perception to those who were hurt and upset in the Indigenous community, but nothing can take away Joseph Boyden's effort to make those positive changes and impacts when sustained over time.

Reconciliation is not what we say that counts, it is what we do; reconciliation is based upon the merits of our actions and the positive impacts we have on people and community.

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to draft and develop legislation in the form of Bill C-318: An Act to establish Indian Residential School Reconciliation and Memorial Day with Robert Falcon-Ouellette, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre, who introduced it into Parliament as a private member's bill. This act, if adopted by the Government of Canada, would establish a truth and reconciliation framework between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

It would do so by acknowledging the truth of Indian residential school experience as an act of genocide under the UN Convention of 1949 and it would focus on the future in which the treaty relationship between two nations is the basis for reconciliation.

I am thankful the Assembly of First Nations recently passed a resolution in support of the bill passed at their Special Chiefs Assembly in December 2016. In addition I am also thankful for the support of "grassroots" Indigenous peoples, and non-Indigenous allies who support the bill in its adoption.

​Reconciliation 'undiscovered country'

In going forward, the notion of Indigenous/Canadian truth and reconciliation is the undiscovered country waiting to be unveiled and achieved together.

At the interpersonal level, truth is the nurturing of the basic goodness of who we are as humans, and reconciliation is the cultivation of trust based upon the action in relations to each other. If truth and reconciliation is to occur between both peoples and nations, then I ask all people and governments to acknowledge Canada's historical past and support the aspirations of Indigenous peoples and nations — as we seek the betterment of our people and communities.

And, perhaps the first step towards truth and reconciliation is respectful dialogue over a plate of nachos and a football game.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Maeengan Linklater is Anishinaabe and originally hails from Lac Seul First Nation, Ontario. He is a father, a long-time Urban Aboriginal community volunteer, and a poet.

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