Vera Manuel devoted her life to encouraging others to free ourselves through the use of our personal voices. Telling the truth is disarming, speaking your truth is a generous and healing gift.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Unsettling Canada

Unsettling Canada is built on a unique collaboration between two First Nations leaders, Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ron Derrickson.
Both men have served as chiefs of their bands in the B.C. interior and both have gone on to establish important national and international reputations. But the differences between them are in many ways even more interesting. Arthur Manuel is one of the most forceful advocates for Aboriginal title and rights in Canada and comes from the activist wing of the movement. Grand Chief Ron Derrickson is one of the most successful Indigenous businessmen in the country.
Together the Secwepemc activist intellectual and the Syilx (Okanagan) businessman bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to Canada’s most glaring piece of unfinished business: the place of Indigenous peoples within the country’s political and economic space. The story is told through Arthur’s voice but he traces both of their individual struggles against the colonialist and often racist structures that have been erected to keep Indigenous peoples in their place in Canada.
In the final chapters and in the Grand Chief’s afterword, they not only set out a plan for a new sustainable indigenous economy, but lay out a roadmap for getting there.

“This is the back story of both grassroots and backroom struggles that created the context in which we find ourselves today, one in which a new generation of First Nations leaders is demanding sovereignty and self-determination, and more and more non-Indigenous Canadians finally understand that huge swaths of this country we call Canada is not ours—or our government’s—to sell.”
– Naomi Klein, from the Foreword
“Pragmatic and helpful, this is a timely book for our fraught and political moment”
– Quill & Quire
Unsettling Canada is a breathtakingly beautiful story of Indigenous resistance, strength, and movement building. Unsettling Canada echoes the power of George Manuel’s The Fourth World, centering the heart of the narrative deep inside a kind of Indigenous intelligence rarely shared outside our communities. This is the critical conversation that Canada and Indigenous peoples must have because it is centred on land, and, therefore, it is one of the most important books on Indigenous politics I’ve ever read.”
– Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back
“For me, Unsettling Canada is the most recent addition to a relatively short list of resurgent, grassroots contributions to Indigenous decolonization. Written by one of our most respected and incisive leaders and thinkers, this is a must-read for anyone serious about radically transforming the colonial relationship between Indigenous nations and the Canadian state.”
– Glen Coulthard, University of British Columbia, author of Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition

  •  May 28th, 2015, 6:30pm–8:00pm
  •  Vancouver Public Library - Central Location (350 West Georgia Street), Unceded Coast Salish territories, Vancouver, BC, Canada (map)

  • May 21st, 2015, 2:00pm–4:00pm
  •  Athabasca Hall, Room 227 University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada (map)


  • Paperback / softback, 320 pages
  • ISBN 9781771131766
  • Published April 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Reconciliation Through Poetry

March 2014:
I have been participating in an unusual project, Reconciliation Through Poetry, which was conceived as a thank you gift in honour of Chief Robert Joseph. Five local poets received out-of-the-blue invitations to accept a commission, to write a poem to the theme of reconciliation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that each poet received the request with a great deal of emotion and sensitivity, and went through a reconciliation process unique to each person, where he or she is at in life as a person and as a poet, and then what this outrageous request was commanding of us. For some, there was an almost karmic ring to the invitation: for others, minds flipped through a list of "more political" poets, who might have been more appropriate to the task. In other words, all of us had to engage with the question, "Why me?" in order to arrive at the yes or no response required of the email.

No doubt for Chief Robert Joseph, "Why poetry?" might have flickered through his mind, when the idea was first raised in discussion, following perhaps the "Why me?" of accepting the award in all of it's affiliated aspects.

January 2015:
Vancouver's Year of Reconciliation has drawn to a close, and the call for nominations for a new Jack Blaney Award recipient ends next week. Reconciliation Through Poetry participants have received the framed excerpts of our poems that were on display at both the Vancouver Public Library and Vancouver City Hall over the past year.

The full poems, with bios of poets and of Chief Robert Joseph-- the person whose exquisite contributions to collective dialogue and peacemaking we were called together to honour-- are all available online for those who wish to read more deeply into the project.

About Chief Robert Joseph

The Poems:

Among the many poems read, videos viewed, conversations held, and papers reviewed in preparation for writing the poem that I wrote in honour of Chief Bobby Joe, there is one academic paper that I particularly admired, that I would like to share here. For me it is important because it engages with the question, why Canadians don't care: it is a matter of functionality, the function of our collective way of doing things that sustains the malfunction of the collective. The way out is, as Vera Manuel well knew and as Chief Robert Joseph affirms, through speaking truth.

I don't feel finished with this project, or even with my own poem, but I do like the excerpt that has returned to me in the mail:

the wreck of the self-deceptive nation
struggling toward transformation, we are
coming into being

writing a new song of wholesome
on the stinking bones of our
undefended regret

heat of transformative anger shed
the colonial project unmasked, interrupted

Rita Joe: I lost my talk
Chief Robert Joseph:
 Am I a human being?

Looking forward to further evolutions of the reconciliation through poetry possibilities. 

Vera's poetry and her legacy work to the same ends: personal as well as collective healing through reconciliation of disparate stories into shared truths.

Three poems by Vera Manuel