Jody Wilson-Raybould's new book is about taking action toward reconciliation
'True reconciliation is and should be a bit challenging and a bit uncomfortable.'
Jody Wilson-Raybould says she has been asked one question more than any other: what can I do to help advance reconciliation? People have asked her that in airport lineups, in boardrooms, even on the way to the restroom. She says it is the right question and that when we ask the right questions, we can find a way to move forward.
Her new book, True Reconciliation, is an attempt to answer that question. The book combines Wilson-Raybould's personal experiences with other people's stories and expertise, past reconciliation efforts, historical facts and infographics to guide readers through a process of learning, understanding and taking action on reconciliation.
She is a lawyer and has served as the B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations. She was also a Member of Parliament, and served as the Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Canada as well as Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence during her time on Parliament Hill.
She is a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of the Kwakwaka'wakw, also known as the Kwak'wala-speaking peoples. She is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation. Her traditional name, Puglaas, means "woman born to noble people."
I love very much how you begin True Reconciliation by honouring your family. I'd like to talk about your grandmother and her influence in forming your book.
I always get a little teary-eyed when I talk about my grandmother. Her name was Pugladee, which in our language means "a good host." She was the matriarch of our clan. For a previous book I wrote, I had the great benefit of listening to audio recordings of my grandmother.
True reconciliation is and should be a bit challenging and a bit uncomfortable.- Jody Wilson-Raybould
My sister was far more diligent than I when we were younger and she taped my grandmother talking about what it means to be from the We Wai Kai First Nation, the laws of our big house, the potlatch, what it means to be in leadership roles and pass down our laws and our ways of being and the values that I carry today. For me — and I know for many or all Indigenous peoples — we stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. One of the strongest shoulders that I was able to stand on were my grandmother's.
You asked the question: "What would my grandmother make of the word reconciliation?" What do you think she would make of it?
My grandmother went to residential school and the only book she had when she was young was the dictionary. So she had a very expansive vocabulary, but I do not believe reconciliation necessarily would be in there in the context of Indigenous issues.
I don't think she would ever use the word reconciliation, but I will say that we're in an extraordinary period of time right now where reconciliation is a word, an activity, a learning that we are all undertaking together and more so than ever before. I find that extraordinary, which is one of the reasons why this book came together.
WATCH | Jody Wilson-Raybould on the complexity of the word 'reconciliation:'
It's a question that began your book True Reconciliation, which is a question that dogged you wherever you went. People would come up to you to say, "What can I do?" What did people asking that question of you mean to you?
I talk in the book somewhat jokingly, but not really — I've been followed into the bathroom, in airports and in other places. What does that mean to me? It means that we are in this place collectively, as individuals, as Canadians, having this conversation about the relationship or the lack of relationship or the necessity to improve the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in this country.
This is unfinished business and the cascading amount of news that we are receiving, which, in some ways, culminated in the summer of 2021 when there was that public revelation of the unmarked burials in Kamloops, galvanized the public in an extraordinary way more than ever before.
In the book, I talk about the definition of reconciliation: two people or a group of people have had a disagreement and now they're trying to make amends to get back to a proper relationship. For Indigenous peoples in this country, there has never been that proper relationship between the Crown and [with] non-Indigenous peoples. That's why people say reconciliation is dead.
There's other words that are used, whether it's "resurgence" or "rebuilding," which is a word I like. But I think that for all of us: How do we get excited as we continue to learn? We continue to understand and we act in our own ways and our individual lives to help tear down silos that have been built up between and amongst us and actually start to get to know each other. Through that and through those building of relationships, we actually will define what reconciliation means together.
You are hopeful because you say in the last 12 years, more has taken place to advance reconciliation than in the previous 50 years. What are your hopes for the next 12 years?
Within those 50 years, Indigenous peoples got the right to vote. There were some amendments to the Indian Act. We saw some self-government agreements happen in the country — extraordinary things. But more has changed since I became regional chief, and yeah, it does give me a hope
We have 25-plus self-governments — communities across the country that have removed themselves from that racist, colonial policy called the Indian Act, [and] other communities are moving down that governance continuum. But what makes me hopeful now more than ever is that Canadians are talking about this all the time.
I believe that reconciliation can be a lens we look through as Canadians to develop a shared story for Canada.- Jody Wilson-Raybould
I believe that reconciliation can be a lens we look through as Canadians to develop a shared story for Canada. We face so many issues, whether it is climate change or social justice issues, that we actually need to look at each other more and more as human beings and do what we can do to assist and build relationships that are more loving and harmonious.
LISTEN | Author Bob Joseph on his book, 21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act:
Governor General Mary Simon says at the very end of an address she gave that reconciliation is a responsibility that all Canadians share. We all need to listen. We all need to understand, and you've added "act." How do we act?
We see politicians or people in government labelling pretty much everything as an act of reconciliation. But when everything is labelled an act of reconciliation, it effectively makes nothing an act of reconciliation.
I think we need to be mindful of preformative reconciliation or symbolic reconciliation. We can lower a flag; we can wear beautiful orange T-shirts. We can create a national holiday for Truth and Reconciliation. These are important acts. They elevate awareness and understanding and learning, but they don't lift a child out of poverty or ensure a child can be kept in their home or reduce the number of Indigenous peoples in the criminal justice system, recognize rights or settle long standing battles over title.
All acts of reconciliation aren't equal. All of our actions depend on our own individual lives, our own realities, our own knowledge of Indigenous issues, but true reconciliation is and should be a bit challenging and a bit uncomfortable.
Jody Wilson Raybould's comments have been edited for length and clarity.
Interview produced by Lisa Mathews, Shelagh Rogers and Jacqueline Kirke.