Michael Asch, John Borrows, and James Tully, eds., Resurgence and Reconciliation: Indigenous-Settler Relations and Earth Teachings; University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2018. 369 pp. $32.62 CDN (paperback). ISBN 978-1-4875-2327-5.
This impressive volume is one of the most challenging and stimulating books I have read in recent memory. Its purpose and messages are urgently relevant to anyone who calls this land Turtle Island or Canada, eespecially in light of current conflicts over pipeline development in Indigenous territory. Though these conflicts have faded from headlines in the wake of a global pandemic, the issues that underlie them remain unresolved. I found the book especially useful and instructive in my role as a facilitator of Mennonite Church of Eastern Canada’s work on responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action.
There is a great deal to digest in this book, which includes chapters by many authors. Happily, I found it well laid out, easy to navigate, and written in exceptionally clear and beautiful language. It calls on readers to “envision the combination of robust resurgence and transformative reconciliation” (8, italics added). The authors successfully convey this integrative vision in ways that are both illuminating and inclusive. For instance, Borrows illuminates the limitations and blind spots of frames of reference that many of us take for granted. He asserts that “earth-based relationships reveal environment-based laws over which humans have little control. . . . They help humans see that they are not the jurisprudential center of the universe” (61). When humans realize this, we see that the “rule of law” exists within a much broader, deeper, and older frame of reference—the laws and relationships of earth-based systems. I find this insight constructively provocative in the context of recent discourse on upholding the “rule of law” in the current pipeline disputes. It raises important questions about which laws should be doing the ruling.
I appreciate the authors’ ability to proffer powerful and timely messages in ways that are inclusive and engaging rather than alienating or off-putting. They do so by communicating on a broad spectrum of frequencies that can resonate across educational, sociocultural, and professional backgrounds. The book employs persuasive legal arguments, passionate calls for environmental justice, and prescient Indigenous teachings, sometimes all within the same chapter. The authors also frame reconciliation around the common link that all humans have with the earth, which sustains us. This quote captures the essence of this vital message: “If we try to reconcile Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with each other without reconciling our way of life with the living earth, we will fail, because the unsustainable, crisis-ridden relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that we are trying to reconcile has its deepest roots in the unsustainable and crisis-ridden relationship between human beings and the living earth” (84).
The inclusive approach and tone is not warm and fuzzy; it has a sharp edge of implication. Reconciliation involves a reckoning with historical injustice and a recognition of responsibilities moving forward. The message for Settlers and especially Settler governments is direct: Canada is built on treaties. Asch (a Settler himself) asserts that “one cannot have Confederation until there is a home on which to build it, and without the treaties we have no home here” (42). The authors make the clear connection between reconciliation and power, calling on Settlers to “suspend power-over relations and engage in dialogue and negotiation as equals.” The “assertion of power-over,” they argue, “renders reconciliation impossible” (21).
In addition to its important insights on reconciliation, the book paints a captivating and vibrant picture of resurgent Indigenous strength. This is very important to hear, especially since headlines still show a tendency to sensationalize deficiencies and defeats. Resurgence is also framed in inclusive terms: the need for resurgence is mutual. To heal relationships with the earth, upon which we all depend, Settler institutions require fundamental reform and renewal as well. The authors argue for “the resurgence of Canadian law, not just Indigenous law. Canadian law could do a much better job of reconciling us with the earth” (65). The most hopeful and challenging message of this book is that the power to foster resurgence and reconciliation does not rest solely in the hands of Supreme Court justices, Grand Chiefs, and cabinet ministers. That power is imbued in each one of us who belong to this land. Borrows and Tully contend that “we the democratic people and peoples of this land, can carry on discussing and enacting practices of reconciliation and/or resurgence in every area of Indigenous and Settler life ways and earth ways without waiting for the Crown to join in” (22).
In my view, this final quote constitutes a direct call to action to each reader to engage in the most important work of our generation—resurgence and reconciliation. While I confess to being nearly overwhelmed by the gravity of this compelling book, I encourage everyone to take on the fruitful and exciting challenge of reading it. I further challenge those who read it to engage with the call to action and to begin building networks of people who learn, build relationships, and mobilize for change.
Scott Morton Ninomiya was born in Waterloo Region and lives with his family there on the Grand River Watershed and the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishnabe, and Neutral peoples, where he attends St. Jacobs Mennonite Church and is pursuing a PhD in environment at University of Waterloo.