I’ve been volunteering for Edmonton’s LitFest over the past few years, an annual literature festival celebrating the writing of nonfiction. My work gives me free accesses to the readings and discussions during the festival. Some of the sessions I attended last year are still quite impressive when I reviewed my writing notes.
I went to the LitFest event on October 13, 2016. Last night’s session was a discussion on aboriginal people’s issue in Canada. Three panelists were invited to speak about their experience of working with the aboriginal community. Two were non-aboriginal, “white” Canadians, and the third called herself “a real Canadian” who had a list of heritages—the English, the Irish, the German, the Cree and others. The moderator, Tanya Kappo, had an aboriginal background and was a lawyer by trade, but she had been involving in working with the aboriginal communities for the past few years. Listening to the survivors of Canada’s residential schools had been a hard process, and she was still in the process of recuperation.
A few things stuck me. Steven Cooper, a white lawyer started to write about his experience of dealing with aboriginal clients who were mostly criminals. He started with an interesting anecdote of his family moving to Southern Ontario when he was little. His father had a Jewish background, so people thought he had horns in his head. His father even let people touch his head to prove they’re wrong. The audience laughed when hearing this story, but I was really shocked by people’s ignorance then.
Another thing about Steven is the productive shift of his career. He is a lawyer, a profession chosen for the purpose of good income and security. But years of practice leads to the commitment to writing, and through writing, he shares his experience of working with the aboriginal people and calls for societal attention for the injustice of the political system done to this group and its culture.
Myrna Kostash, another panelist, raised a provocative point about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The document talks about what white people should do and leaves out the aboriginal peoples’ voices. This absence indicates that Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a document that more addresses white people’s needs than deals with the actual relationship between aboriginals and the government.
Rhonda Kronyk, also a panelist, confirmed Myrna’s point and emphasized the importance of establishing a relationship. It can be collaboration, partnership, etc. anything unilateral won’t make any fundamental changes.