Nonfiction Review by Rachel Yacaa?ał George

Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson, The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land and Rebuilding the Economy (Toronto: James Lorimer and Company Ltd., 2017). Paperbound, 312 pp., $22.95

The Reconciliation ManifestoIn January 2017, Indigenous communities were rocked by the loss of a tremendous leader. Arthur Manuel, a leader and activist from the Secwepemc Nation, stood on the front lines and his unwavering determination and strength in the fight for Indigenous rights have been a beacon of hope for many. As Shiri Pasternak remarked: “Art taught us to better people. He changed the way we saw the world. He showed us a different way to relate to the world.” It is this pursuit of justice that guides and inspires those of us who continue to defend the land and water, and fight for Indigenous rights. His passing left Indigenous peoples aching, but his presence persists and his leadership and direction are found within the pages of his posthumous book The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land and Rebuilding the Economy,leaving us a roadmap to finish the work he, and many other great leaders, have been fighting to complete.

Expanding on the ideas of his first book, Unsettling Canada, Manuel provides a step-by-step approach to show us exactly where we are today, how we are arrived at this point, and how to shift where we are heading toward an honourable future. The current socio-political landscape in Canada would have people believe that the country has entered a period of heightened morality, awash with apologies, regret, and a renewed sense of purpose in “reconciling” the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Yet, Manuel’s sharp analysis and quick wit debunk this myth, not only depicting the tendency of the government of Canada to commission reports disguised as justice, but also the unyielding intentions of the government which remain unchanged since before confederation. While this may not be a moment of increased government morality, this period has ushered in an increasing awakening of consciousness in Canadians across the country. It is at this moment that we have reached a tipping point, a moment of urgency when we must join together in “demanding justice from a country that has often trumpeted it, but rarely delivered.”

With the fundamental belief that we must come together to challenge the status quo, Manuel asserts that our path forward must first begin with truth, which has been in short supply from the government of Canada. Only through the unravelling of our twisted histories can we begin on that “long and complex process of fixing what is so obviously broken.” Tracing the history of the country, Manuel actively and critically deconstructs the revisionist narratives that form Canadian identity and stand in the way of reimagining the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canadians. Not only do these narratives structure how Canadians understand their history, but they allow for the persistence of the colonial relationship. Over the course of multiple chapters, Manuel breaks down the intersecting facets of colonialism which allow for this country to currently exist: dispossession, dependency, and oppression. Unapologetically, Manuel calls a spade a spade, documenting and deducing colonial policy historically, and presently, to one dirty notion: racial superiority. 

The persistence of colonialism has demanded that Indian policy— to use the legal terminology—appear disconnected, as stand-alone aberrations perhaps executed by “a few bad apples.” Yet Manuel unpacks and weaves colonial policy together to highlight one fact: it always comes back to the land, “who has title to it and who is the legitimate decision maker over it.” The continued denial of Indigenous rights has led us to where we are now. At this pivotal moment, Manuel challenges readers to look past teary-eyed Liberal expressions of reconciliation and “Trudeau’s charm offensive,” to understand this critical fact: Our land and water rights are intrinsically connected to our inalienable right to self-determination and without the recognition of our fundamental right to self-determination “all of the hugs and tears, and increases in program and service money are meaningless.”

The pathway forward, to an honourable future for us all is clear to Manuel: the complete recognition of our fundamental rights outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including the inherent right to self-determination. Change only comes from substantially challenging the status quo, and this power for change is inseparable from the grassroots. It is beyond the capacity of colonial structures to change as they are entrenched in the systems that hold “our oblivion [as] precisely its objective.” Instead, Manuel sees our freedom in grassroots movements such as Defenders of the Land and Idle No More. The urgency of this work echoes throughout the pages of Manuel’s book. As Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson notes: for Indigenous activists, this book “is something of a warning shot—suggesting that if Indigenous people do not come together to demand their liberty soon, they will lose it.” What is needed is not misguided surface reconciliation, but a remaking of Canada on the principles of the recognition of our rights, and human rights.

The Reconciliation Manifesto is Art Manuel’s call to action. Within these pages lies a step-by-step plan to move toward an honourable collective future for all of those who live in what has become known as Canada. While Manuel recognizes that embarking on this will take courage, he believes that with the full truth of our collective histories, “the only guide you will need is a sense of justice and decency.” In response to the current reconciliation rhetoric that paints a hopeful picture of hand-holding and skipping into the future, Manuel’s work outlines a program for Indigenous and non-Indigenous to engage in a way that bypasses the mediation of the colonial state to result in true structural change.

—Rachel Yacaa?ał George

As in The Malahat Review, 202, Spring 2018