- Outsourcing ReconciliationThe Government of Canada's #IndigenousReads Campaign and the Appropriation of Indigenous Intellectual Labor
On June 21, 2016, National Indigenous Peoples Day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement repeating one of the credos he has reiterated frequently since taking office: "No relationship is more important to our government and to Canada than the one with Indigenous peoples" ("Statement" 2016).1 After affirming "the importance of reconciliation," Trudeau promised once again "to fully adopt and implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" (UNDRIP) and to "listen to Indigenous voices on environmental matters" ("Statement" 2016). At the end of his statement, the prime minister extended a new invitation, encouraging Canadians "to join the #IndigenousReads campaign to help raise awareness and understanding through shared culture and stories and encourage steps toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples" (Trudeau, "Statement" 2016). Three years later, the promises expressed in Trudeau's statement are more threadbare than ever, as his administration has equivocated on entrenching UNDRIP in Canadian law and implemented only a handful of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's 94 Calls to Action, despite his campaign promise to deliver on the full suite. Moreover, despite vocal Indigenous opposition, the Trudeau Liberals have aggressively supported many hotly contested oil and energy extraction projects, including the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. As Métis scholar Chelsea Vowel asserts, "It is clear that reconciliation as understood by the federal government is much more about 'the economy' than building real relationships with Indigenous Peoples" ("Indigenous"). [End Page 1]
In the midst of Trudeau's failure to implement substantive change regarding Indigenous rights to land and self-determination, the Liberal government has continued its rhetoric of reconciliation through initiatives such as the #IndigenousReads campaign. Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC) Carolyn Bennett first announced the idea on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) radio program The Current on December 29, 2015.2 In response to her desire to "find a better answer for all of the people now coming to me saying … how can I help? How can I be part of reconciliation?" ("Carolyn Bennett" 00:16:50–17:00), Bennett posed the solution of making the month of June national Indigenous Book Club Month, encouraging citizens to read the work of "an Indigenous author or … ally" (00:18:37–41).3 By June 2016 Bennett's project had a name, a website, and a hashtag, as #IndigenousReads was launched as part of the festivities for National Indigenous Peoples Day. On the government webpage created for the campaign, a video of Bennett positions the minister as the host of a national book club inviting Canadians into a virtual public sphere where they can use social media to join in the "journey" of "reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples by sharing Indigenous literature" ("#IndigenousReads").
As a settler scholar and teacher of Indigenous literatures, I believe that reading the work of Indigenous writers can offer an important starting point for raising awareness and challenging non-Indigenous peoples' worldviews. At the same time, my own experiences as a reader and teacher have taught me that the terms of engagement through which non-Indigenous people approach Indigenous literatures can have a significant impact upon the possibility of transformative learning. As Métis scholar Aubrey Jean Hanson observes in response to Bennett's proposal for an Indigenous book club, "a great deal of [further] learning is required" by non-Indigenous Canadians "to develop responsive relationships" with Indigenous literatures (69–70).4 Indeed, in the case of CIRNAC's #IndigenousReads campaign, I argue that the generative possibilities of engaging with Indigenous literatures have been constrained by the particular ways that this state initiative has entangled Indigenous literatures with two of the Trudeau administration's keywords: reconciliation and relationship. While much has now been said about the problematics of reconciliation—its tendency to prioritize settler catharsis by relegating colonialism to the past and foreclosing resistance to the ongoing [End Page 2] expropriation of Indigenous land—far less has been said about how the concept of "relationship" has similarly been co-opted and appended to settler state discourses of reconciliation in ways...