The Next Chapter

Trevor Herriot and Norman Fleury make the case for atonement

Trevor Herriot's book, Towards a Prairie Atonement, looks into the injustices committed against Indigenous people and their native land in the Canadian Prairies.
Trevor Herriot's book, Towards a Prairie Atonement, speaks about the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous people and their land in the Canadian Prairies.

In the late 1930s, the Canadian government forced hundreds of Indigenous people out of Ste. Madeleine, a small Métis community on the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. While the displaced resettled in nearby communities, the government razed their homes and turned their land into community pastures for settler farmers to use for livestock.

With the help of Michif Elder Norman Fleury, whose ancestors lived in Ste. Madeleine for generations, naturalist Trevor Herriot delves into Canada's long, dark history of injustices against Indigenous people in Towards a Prairie Atonement. He makes the case for reconciliation and atonement, while emphasizing the urgent need to protect Canada's precious native grasslands.

No chance to heal

FLEURY: A few of my siblings were born there [in Ste. Madeleine] and they were part of the movement when they had to leave the community because of converting a homeland into a community pasture. When you're accustomed to having been land-based people for centuries or for a long time, and then all of a sudden you're thrown out, they totally felt like, "What do we do now? Our total existence culturally and our livelihood is gone. Now where do we look?" I know there are some elderly people out there — and we don't have many anymore — that can tell the actual story, what actually took place. And this is where you get your stories, in the community. Now you've got a community that's been removed in 1939 and people have gone and scattered. The sad part is there was no way of helping the people heal. 

Land is everything

HERRIOT: It does come down to land, and I think what we have to remember when we talk about things like not paying your taxes — the land was sold from underneath their feet and from underneath the feet of the Indigenous people in general. So today, if we think we're going to reconcile with First Nations and with Métis people, we have to address that primary break of trust that happened over land. Land is everything. This is where our wealth and privilege comes from, here as settler people. And if there's poverty amongst our Indigenous people in the Great Plains — as we know there is — and if there's social issues, it all goes back to that, back to the land and resources that were not shared equitably. 

Going back to their people

FLEURY: That word "reconciliation" has been thrown around a lot. To reconcile, it means government has a big responsibility for us to regain those things that we lost, to reclaim. And when we talk about healing and empowerment, we want to feel good about ourselves by saying, "This is how we were a people and we want to get back to those people."

Trevor Herriot's and Norman Fleury's comments have been edited and condensed.