Sincerity and Conciliation

Asinabka, Outaouais/Ottawa,Québec/Ontario, Canada, Turtle Island


One of the questions that was hurled at me somewhere in the early 1990s had to do with the relationship between the Institutions of Canada (government, law, education, health care, trade, commerce, finance, etc.) and the First Peoples of Turtle Island. This was shortly after the Oka crisis, and I got to hear from the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) as well as from the children of RCMP officers who had been on site. Having heard both sides, I thought hmmmm. And promptly left the country for a few years.

The nature of the relations has always been with me. I’ve learned about it through the works of First Nations, Métis and Inuit artists in different media. I think there’s a certain poetry to my reading masterful novels about Cree storytelling told by Cree storytellers in the Settler’s art form. Mostly what I did was listen, and seek to understand better. The more I listened, the more I engaged in conversations, the more I learned of the complexities and adversarial history.

Dr. Lynn Gehl put it to me (and every other settler present). “I’m not here to decolonize you. That’s your job.” Fair enough. It’s a constantly shifting, ongoing process, as it turns out.


In Arts of Engagement one of the authors put forward the idea that we need Conciliation as opposed to Reconciliation, which suggests that we had a respectful, coherent, nation-to-nation relationship to begin with. There were cases of this early in our shared histories, but nothing that survived the waves of colonization and settlement. I’m not entirely sure about the notion of “truth”. I prefer to think of approaching a discourse with sincerity.

Pardon us while we just put this here.

Canada’s National Capital Region happens to be on unceded Algonquin Anishnaabeg land. I can’t say what that means in legal or political terms, however, it means that historically, the Algonquin never gave up, handed over, surrendered, ceded, sold, lost the land. We just sort of showed up and started putting up lumber mills, hydroelectric station, and parliament without so much as a by your leave.

Currently, a private developer wants to turn an Algonquin sacred island into condos. I’m not sure why, as the market is saturated in Ottawa, and as far as I know, there aren’t an abundance of sacred sites in this city, plenty of desecrated ones, on top of the overabundance of condos.

Map of Victoria Island, Ottawa, ON

Chaudiere, Albert, and Victoria Islands as well as the Chaudiere falls lie in the Kitchissippi/Outaouais/Ottawa River, and serves as an approximate centre of the Ottawa-Gatineau urban sprawl.

Elder William Commanda guided Architect Douglas Cardinal in the design of the islands as an Indigenous Peace Centre.


As this is being played out, Free the Falls is a good source of information about the ongoing battle to put Indigenous Peoples and Peace ahead of private development of unnecessary somethings.

I’ve been learning Anishnaabemowin (Kwey kakinaw!) and have taken Inuktitut (nakligiyagit), but the opportunities to speak them are few and far between. There are occasionally classes in town. I think we all benefit from learning other languages (as much as we’re able), and learning one that is in danger of disappearing, one that evolved in this very part of the world. It evolved out of this particular type of landscape, climate, ecology, the fungi, plants, animals particular to this space. Wouldn’t it help us better to understand this place if we understood the language that has been part of it the longest?



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