Jody Wilson-Raybould’s career has included many posts in law and political office, including being the first Indigenous person to serve as minister of justice and attorney general of Canada. In From Where I Stand: Rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a Stronger Canada, Wilson-Raybould (Musgamagw Tsawataineuk/ Laich-Kwil-Tach) offers readers a selection of her many speeches on reconciliation and nation rebuilding.
These collected pieces span the course of 10 years, but Wilson-Raybould insists “the messages are the same” regardless of when they were written or why they were commissioned. Central to Wilson-Raybould’s beliefs are the ideas that reconciliation is possible and that rebuilding Indigenous nations and “navigating our way through the ‘postcolonial door’” strengthens both parties, including the federation of Canada.
Divided into five thematic sections, the book addresses the metaphor of the postcolonial door and what it means to move through it; an understanding of rights and recognition; what governance might look like once the 1876 Indian Act is repealed; the importance of economic development; and a section titled, “Restoring Balance, Correcting Injustice, and Keeping Vigilant.” This final section is a virtual catch-all for social issues including the status of Indigenous women, the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in the colonial prison system, and the inherent racism of Canada’s legal traditions, among other topics.
Wilson-Raybould states, “Reconciliation cannot fail, because Canada cannot fail.” From Where I Stand is framed as a palatable, Eurocentric approach to reconciliation that focuses on the benefits to a colonial nation as an enticement to get on board and act. Wilson-Raybould calls herself a proud Indigenous Canadian, which is itself a political statement. For some, this is colonizing Indigeneity: stating Indigenous identity exists only within its relationship to the project of colonial Canada. In Wilson-Raybould’s formulation, neither identity supersedes the other.
It is notable that in her declaration of the inherent rights of Indigenous Peoples, Wilson-Raybould claims that Indigenous nations “owned” the lands and their resources before colonization. From someone who has made a point of telling her readers that she worries over every word, this word – and the concept of ownership itself – is upsetting. Language that would be preferable in decolonial practice would include reference to the stewardship of or reciprocal responsibility toward the land.
Speeches have long been used to call for action – and action is the process that will lead to a fulfilled reconciliation between Indigenous nations and settler Canada. Collected here, however, these writings address an audience we cannot see and are often prompted by a topic arising out of unstated, larger proceedings. On the page, these pieces often fall flat; they are missing the depth of a longer written engagement. Each section – each individual speech, really – could be its own book. While Wilson-Raybould’s research is well founded and her rhetoric is generally persuasive, one of the problems with From Where I Stand is that it never really transcends the pitfalls of its chosen genre.