A group of Indigenous leaders from the grassroots Idle No More and Defenders of the Land initiatives are responding to Canada’s sesquicentennial with a public education and action campaign meant to highlight the injustices the country’s First Nations have faced and to encourage engagement with decolonial texts.
Canada Reads: The Unsettling Canada Edition asks Canadians to read and discuss books such as Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson’s 2015 title Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-Up Call (Between the Lines), and texts such as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action. Project organizers are providing excerpts of all three on a dedicated webpage, while Between the Lines will offer Unsettling Canada at a 20 per cent discount up to the July 1 anniversary, and Derrickson is donating a case of books to be provided to younger readers who cannot otherwise afford them. The campaign will also include a call to action and an online component allowing participants to detail what anti-colonial actions they’re taking part in across the country for Canada’s 150th.
It’s no coincidence that the Canada Reads project echoes CBC’s annual book debate of the same name. “We thought that Canada should read these other things, but we know that they haven’t,” says Russell Diabo, spokesperson for Defenders of the Land. “So we made it a spinoff of that name, calling it the unsettling Canada version.”
According to Diabo, the initiative is a continuation of Manuel’s interest in launching an “anti-150” event. (Manuel, an internationally respected political leader and activist, died in January 2017.) “We picked up the work to organize a national day of action and education within Canada,” Diabo says. “These are [texts] that the prime minister has said he’s going to endorse and implement, but when you read them, you can see that he’s not doing any of that.”
In August, members of the campaign’s coordinating committee will travel to Geneva for the United Nations’ International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The group plans to counter points made by the Canadian government, and to provide evidence of conditions on the country’s reserves. “We know they’re going to talk about reconciliation framework and new money for education, housing, and infrastructure,” says Diabo. “What we want to show [the UN] is that things aren’t changing despite what [the Canadian government] is saying. They’re doing something different on the ground.”