A selection of personal essays by indigenous and non-indigenous writers, In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation is a call for meaningful reconciliation between colonizers and indigenous people. Edited by author and historian Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, the anthology looks beyond government lip service and into the heart of Canada’s shameful past – and present.
The theme of loss recurs throughout. The indigenous authors collected here use personal stories to show how colonization forced their people into assimilation. The resulting loss of identity is a pervasive theme in the book, but so is the power inherent in the act of reclamation. In “This Many Storied Land,” Kamala Todd illustrates the importance of understanding the realitites of colonized land in Canada. Describing her work as aboriginal social planner for the City of Vancouver, Todd makes an exceptional point: our cities aren’t built to reflect their indigenous roots. How, she asks, can we acknowledge our country’s history if it’s rendered invisible? Reclaiming history, both physically and symbolically, forces non-indigenous folk to acknowledge what they often easily ignore.
Reconciliation, the book demonstrates, takes effort from all parties. This can often be painful and embarrassing, especially when citizens become more self-reflexive. The majority of the stories by non-indigenous authors collected here are brutally honest, and thus extremely uncomfortable to read. Many run up against the dangerous lure of exotification, sometimes characterizing indigenous people by their skin tones and eye shapes. Carol Shaben’s “Echo” kicks off with a cringe-worthy physical description of “the most exotic” person in her high school, a girl named Echo. Although this description is less than palatable, it serves as a device for highlighting prejudice. By reflecting upon their shallow interactions with indigenous people, the various authors trace a journey of personal growth and self-reflexivity. They learn that their attitudes are an indirect contribution to oppression.
Although this kind of personal recognition marks an important step forward, In This Together demonstrates that colonization is not a thing of Canada’s past, and suggests that real reconciliation is only possible through an honest appraisal of our present.