Monique Gray Smith's new book for young readers charts a path to reconciliation

The bestselling writer's new book, Speaking Our Truth, explores Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples and the impact of residential schools.
Monique Gray Smith is the author of Speaking Our Truth. (Centric Photography)
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Monique Gray Smith is a writer and public speaker of Cree, Lakota and Scottish descent. Her new book, Speaking Our Truth, is for young people and tells the story of Canada's relationship with Indigenous peoples and the impact of residential schools. 

Shelagh Rogers spoke to Gray Smith in front of a live audience at the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, at an event held in partnership with the Greater Victoria Public Library.

This interview originally aired on Jan. 29, 2018.

Searching for family

"My mom was removed [from her family] at birth and, after three years of living in an orphanage, was adopted into a non-Indigenous home. I started to drink at age 11. I didn't know why I started to drink, except that there was a hole in me. With that alcohol, I attempted to fill that hole. I drank until I was 22. When I went to treatment at Round Lake, part of their motto is 'culture is treatment.' In that journey, that hole began to get filled. When I came out of treatment, I said to my mom, 'Let's look for your family,' because I knew that was the big piece of me missing and I knew that for her it was an even bigger piece."

Celebrating diversity in Indigeneity

"There are so many stories that are similar to mine: the shame of being Indigenous, for generations, has been buried. As people begin to learn about their history, there's these nuances and these dances that we have: 'Do I show up differently? What is within me that has perhaps changed or has not changed or is true?' In our communities, there are a lot of people who say if you didn't grow up on a reserve, if you don't know your language, if don't this, you don't that, then you're not Indigenous. For me, that's part of the colonialism that has occurred in our country — thinking that there's only one way to be Indigenous. In our country, we have well over a million people who are Indigenous. There's well over a million ways to be Indigenous."

More than a book: A journey

"A journey isn't a destination. It's about paying attention the whole time. What am I learning about myself? What am I hearing, not just with my ears but with my heart, that the other person is saying? When I was thinking about this book, the journey was important because I didn't want the reader to just read a book. I wanted them to go on a journey in their heart and their mind, and critically think, 'How does the truth of our history in this country influence me as I move forward in my journey?'"

Educating the next generation

"If I'm having a conversation with a young person and I'm choked up about what we are talking about, they need to see that and witness that. Because part of this dialogue — and as we move forward — isn't always tender information. It requires us to tap into our humanity. Our young people are so close to their humanity. It hasn't been taught out of them, which I think it has for some adults. They get how this was so not OK. This generation is understanding, in a way that generations before have not understood, the impact of the abuses that occurred in the schools and also the impact of the loss of culture and language and connection to family and the land. I think young people today are getting that in a whole different way."

Monique Gray Smith's comments have been edited and condensed.