Bob Joseph, 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples a Reality, Indigenous Relations, Port Coquitlam, BC, 2018. 200 pp. $19.75. ISBN: 978-0-9952-6652-0.
Bob Joseph’s book 21 Things You May Not Know about the Indian Act took me back to 1972 when I volunteered with Native Enterprises in Winnipeg. There I was introduced to the racist, colonialist, and arbitrary nature of the Act that continues to undermine Indigenous rights and identity. I also witnessed expressions of Indigenous resistance in the rise of voices that no longer can be silenced. Joseph’s book is an articulate expression of the evils of Canadian colonization and maps out a strategy for decolonization that is essential if reconciliation is to become a reality. The Christian settler community in particular, because of its central role in the incorporation of the Doctrine of Discovery into Canadian law and the disastrous residential school policy, needs to decolonize itself and be an ally to the resurgence of Indigenous identities, cultures, rights, and self-determination.
Joseph documents the twenty-one most egregious sections of the Act that represent the Canadian government’s determined efforts to snuff out Indigenous rights: “We should take immediate steps to extinguish Indian title,” said Sir John A. Macdonald (25). The Act attempted to weaken Indigenous cultures and identity by banning Indigenous ceremonies, confining Indigenous peoples to reserves, and forcing Indigenous children into residential schools “to kill the Indian in the child” (53). The book documents that the legacy of the Indian Act continues to strain the health, social, and economic fabric of Indigenous communities but is unable to dampen the Indigenous struggle for dignity, self-identity, culture, and self-determination.
In the book’s final chapters, Joseph outlines the framework for the elimination of the Indian Act by a recognition of the Indigenous “inherent right” to self-determination and self-government.
While self-government is not a quick fix for the deeply rooted social, health and economic issues that plague Indigenous communities, it is a step towards empowering communities to rebuild and heal from the intergenerational effects of residential schools. (102)
21 Things is a call to action for the Christian church, summarized in recommendation #48 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report: “We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada who have not already done so, to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation.”1 As Anabaptist Christians, our faith calls us to respond with prayerful and informed actions of solidarity and reconciliation.
First, we need to embrace Anabaptist values of love, justice, truth, service, and reconciliation, which challenge the forces of injustice, racial prejudice, and privilege at the heart of the Canadian colonial project. Second, Anabaptists need to repent for conscious and unconscious complicity in Canada’s oppression of Indigenous peoples, not out of guilt as much as a recognition that our spiritual health and the healing of Indigenous people are intertwined. Third, Anabaptists need to explore ways in which we can be effective allies by trusting and amplifying Indigenous voices that are often marginalized and ignored in Canadian public and political discourse; we engage in redemptive listening, transformative learning, and direct advocacy as a determined and focused practice that is worthy of our identity as followers of the Christ.
Johann Funk attends Langley Mennonite Fellowship in traditional Kwantlen First Nation territory. A reservist with Christian Peacemaker Teams, Johann enjoys writing free verse when the spirit moves.
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action,” 2015, http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf.