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Q&A: writer Jennifer Manuel on her TRC report Reading Challenge


Vancouver Island short-fiction writer Jennifer Manuel has launched a campaign encouraging Canadians to read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report. Following the release of The Heaviness of Things That Float (Douglas & McIntyre), her debut novel about life as an outsider in a remote first nations community, the author realized the message of Canada’s need to decolonize was best transmitted by the report itself. Manuel launched an online campaign where readers can pledge to read the report and see others’ progress. It has already well surpassed Manuel’s initial goal of 1,000 pledges by June 21.

How did this project start? I was attempting to fill what I perceived to be a void, which is a book from a non–First Nations perspective acknowledging the privilege as an outsider and the deep roots of colonial legacy in Canada. Darryl McLeod, a former First Nations delegate to the UN, called my book a valuable resource on truth and reconciliation, and I suddenly had this uneasy feeling. How could I promote my book in good conscience? Shouldn’t I be saying, “Before you read my book, or anyone else’s book, read the TRC report”? I had to do something separate from anything I’d written. I really want people to consider not just the importance of reading the report, but that reading the report is part of a larger overarching movement that needs to happen in Canada: decolonization.

Why do you think all Canadians need to read the report? Non-indigenous people in our country have a moral obligation to insert themselves into the process of decolonization. I think most people either ignore the concept of colonialism in our country, or think it’s simply going to recede into our background. But as a legacy, it’s in all of us. We need to actively confront colonial legacy and privilege. And that’s the reading of the report, is confronting that.

How many people have pledged so far? I did the math and thought if I pounded the virtual pavement every day, I could get 15 people per day and reach 1,000 by the end of June. It’s at 2,500 pledges now. Author Angie Abdou and CBC broadcaster Shelagh Rogers were a few of the early [prominent figures] on board.

What can you see this growing into? Already people are doing little things to take it beyond me, which is exactly what I want; for people to feel like there’s a larger ownership. Libraries in Edmonton and on Vancouver Island are starting local support reading groups, so it’s gone beyond online as well, and it looks like it could grow into little local groups. To me, that’s the point of reading the report: we need to have more people engaged in a mutual respect for healthy dialogue about this issue. I’m hoping it grows into talk and questions. I think the more people feel aware, the more comfortable they feel asking questions they might not have before.