Editor’s note: In its October issue, Q&Q ran a personal essay by Angie Abdou about the consultation process she undertook with the Ktunaxa Nation Council to include a Ktunaxa character in her new novel, In Case I Go. Subsequent to its publication, Q&Q has learned that the essay – which was commissioned to educate authors on the process through Abdou’s own experience – has issues that need to be addressed.
Abdou put Q&Q in touch with Donald Sam, director of traditional knowledge & Language for the Ktunaxa Nation Council, to write a response. Sam offered Ktunaxa writer Troy Sebastian to write the following essay, which has been reviewed by the Ktunaxa Nation Council. We thank them for their valuable time and insight, and also thank Abdou, who has also actively participated in follow-up discussions. Q&Q takes responsibility for the misrepresentations, in particular for suggesting in the headline and subhead (written by Q&Q staff), that Abdou had “gained permission to use Ktunaxa stories,” which was not the case. In sharing the following essay, we hope to take the first step toward a better relationship with the Ktunaxa Nation.
Angie Abdou’s essay, “Getting To Yes”, represents serious challenges for the Ktunaxa Nation Council.
There are clear problems of misrepresentation by both Abdou and Quill & Quire in this article, which I will address in terms of priority. To be clear, a misrepresentation is defined by the Canadian Oxford Dictionary as “a false or misleading account of the nature of something.”
The misrepresentations are:
- The KNC has provided “enthusiastic support” for Abdou’s book.
- The Ktunaxa Elders’ Council approves of the book.
- Abdou “gained permission to use Ktunaxa stories.”
- Abdou had permission to disclose and publish Ktunaxa engagement.
The primary misrepresentation in the article is that In Case I Go was released “with Ktunaxa Nation Council’s enthusiastic support and with the Ktunaxa elders’ approval.” These assertions are not supported by the facts. The Ktunaxa Nation Council did not provide any formal endorsement of the book. To claim otherwise is a misrepresentation of the outcome of the consultation process undertaken by Ktunaxa Nation Council. Therein lies the essence of the grievance.
The reason this misrepresentation is of the utmost importance is that it claims approval from the government of the Ktunaxa Nation. Countless outsiders seek approval from Ktunaxa Nation Council on a wide range of issues. Most come from land-based mining and forest companies, the provincial and federal governments and those with many other interests, who endlessly approach and, at times, consult the Ktunaxa Nation Council on the minutiae and the aggregate of their operations. The Ktunaxa Nation Council has many agreements in place to mitigate, streamline, and focus these processes. These agreements provide certainty within the Ktunaxa Nation operations while formalizing and establishing relationships with third parties who seek our consent.
While the scale of a novel or a literary article may pale in comparison to that of mining tenures, forest operations, and the like, they are the most readily accessible medium for settlers to access. Anyone can purchase the novel or the magazine where the article was published. It was for this purpose the Nation engaged with the author to ensure the book was written in the right light. The subsequent article erroneously serves as a beacon for how to get permission from the Ktunaxa Nation Council to use our stories: as if the first stake in a literary gold rush.
It is readily apparent to all Ktunaxa the essential and vital role that the Ktunaxa Elders’ Council serves within our formal government structure as well as within the Ktunaxa Nation at large. The Elders’ Council is one of our most precious and sensitive communities. Their knowledge, understanding, and integrity are resources that deserve the highest respect and protection.
What Adbou has done is to vilify our elders as “potentially angry or hostile.” She describes her anticipation of meeting with them as “the most terrifying moment yet.” These statements only serve to illustrate the audience she and her work serve. They connect the dots for readers who objectify Indigenous peoples as an “other:” a fearsome tribe capable of angry hostility especially from the terrifying engagement of Indigenous elders. It is a vilification that does not have the redemption of Ktunaxa voice, authority, or approval, especially when framed within a context of supposed consent. Our elders, government, and nation deserve much better than the casual misrepresentation in Abdou’s article.
The entire story of Abdou’s engagement with Ktunaxa, as represented in the published article, was done without consent of the council. To be clear, Abdou did not seek permission to disclose the internal engagement processes of the Ktunaxa Nation Council. The consultation and engagement processes of the Traditional Knowledge and Language Sector of Ktunaxa Nation Council are not subject for public consumption. Third parties who engage with Ktunaxa Nation respect the value of that engagement because they seek a relationship with our nation. There are consequences for breaching this relationship. All parties that engage Ktunaxa Nation accept that the consultation process serves their interests in the short and long terms and therefore breach of the process is taken seriously. It so rarely happens these days that Abdou’s actions are a stark reminder of a past no Ktunaxa wants to repeat.
In closing, I will leave you with a word on Ktunaxa consent. Many readers may be aware of the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling on an issue raised by Ktunaxa Nation. Ktunaxa Nation sought Charter of Rights and Freedoms protection of a sacred area in our territory called Qat’muk from a speculative ski resort proposal. In its ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada found that “where adequate consultation has occurred a development may proceed without the consent of an Indigenous group.”
That conclusion aligns directly within the “Getting to Yes” framework written by Abdou and published by Quill & Quire. In one case, Ktunaxa Nation faces a provincial government approving a project without Ktunaxa consent, and the other, an author who claims, upon consultation, Ktunaxa Nation support for their work.
Claiming Indigenous consent is a settler alibi for deeds without honour. Denying Indigenous consent is an essential recipe for the status quo of settler society. Indigenous consent is the truth of reconciliation. Otherwise, reconciliation is just another roadside attraction.
Getting to consent is recognizing that Indigenous peoples do have the right to consent. Nothing for us without us. While Quill & Quire and Angie Abdou have apologized for elements of “Getting to Yes,” apologies are a poor substitute for respecting and practicing consent. That is why we have provided this offering: a challenge for authors and publishers to seek more than consent, but to build better relationships.
This year, Ktunaxa Nation has undertaken a book project titled Celebrating Who We Are. It is an incredible project for its unique dimension: Ktunaxa Nation has never published a book that celebrates who we are as a nation. While this may be bad history in some eyes, it is essential storytelling and nation building for us. We need to see ourselves represented in publishing and so do you. We invite publishers, booksellers, and others in CanLit publishing to get in touch to help Ktunaxa share our story. That is how we will get to consent: by telling Ktunaxa stories in our way with partners who respect and affirm our ability to say yes … and our right to say no.
Troy Sebastian is a Ktunaxa writer from ʔaqam. He writes poetry and fiction, and is currently working on his first novel. His writing has been published in the Ktuqcqakyam, The Malahat Review, and The New Quarterly, and is forthcoming in The Walrus.