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Meet Team ReconciliACTION YEG Blog 22/23: Philippe Johnson

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Dear readers, I am honoured to introduce myself as the newest writer for ReconciliACTION YEG blog 2022/23. I’ll be taking over from Ajae Wilson, a strong, passionate and proud Métis woman. I’m very grateful she agreed to share this writing space with me.

I grew up in Lac La Biche, Alberta and was born to a Scandinavian and French settler family. Both sides immigrated to Alberta from Europe and Quebec in the early 1900s.

Situated in Treaty 6 territory and the homeland of the Métis, Lac La Biche borders two Metis Settlements and three First Nations communities. The mission at Lac La Biche started an Indian residential school in 1863, which moved to Saddle Lake in 1898 and then to St. Paul in 1931. [1] The local Portage College owes its beginnings to a twenty-six-day sit-in by Indigenous students facing the closure of a federal program providing instruction in areas such as wild fur management, trapping and oilfield management in 1970. [2] Today, the Lac La Biche area is going through its truth and reconciliation. While it has a difficult journey ahead, it hosts some unique partnerships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, including the Lac La Biche Native Friendship Centre’s Indigenous tourism partnership with Alberta Parks.[3]

Like other settler families, my family and I knowingly and unknowingly benefit from the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples in what is now Canada. Unsurprisingly, growing up, I was taught to be racist, something I have been trying to unlearn ever since.

During my childhood, and perhaps until the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) reports were released, my family believed that the Indian residential school experience was not much different than my father’s, who also spent time in a boarding school run by nuns. My family’s attitude has since evolved toward recognizing the criminal and genocidal nature of Indian residential schools. However, one need only look to former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s recent comments comparing his boarding school experience to Indian residential schools, and his absurd claim that he never heard about abuse in residential schools while he was Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, to see that this type of thinking is alive and well in Canada. [4]

Growing up in Lac La Biche, I observed the consequences of Canada’s attempt to colonize Indigenous people, including poverty, environmental degradation, violence, and racism against Indigenous people, daily. To better understand why there was so much inequality and violence in the world and what to do about it, I studied International Development at the University of Toronto. After working and volunteering abroad in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, I realized that if I didn’t like my government, I would not like what it does at home or abroad. I returned home to Alberta to get involved in politics. After the NDP won the provincial government in 2015, I spent one year as an advisor to the Minister of Energy and three years as Chief of Staff to the Minister of Indigenous Relations.

Highlights from my time in government included working on the implementation of UNDRIP, the successful conclusion of the Lubicon land claim, Alberta’s participation in the federal MMIWG inquiry, Alberta’s engagement with and apology to Sixties Scoop survivors, the creation of the Indigenous Climate Leadership Program, improving consultation and cooperative management on land and natural resource development, updating Alberta’s Métis Harvesting Policy (including recognition of the authority of the Métis Nation of Alberta and the Metis Settlements General Council to recognize Métis harvesters for the purposes of the policy) and the establishment of mandatory training for the public service on Indigenous histories, worldviews and experiences, to name a few. Unfortunately, nearly every initiative I worked on was either somehow circumscribed or almost thwarted by legal arguments of one form or another from government or industry lawyers. This experience, and my lifelong passion for economic and social justice, led me to follow my longstanding dream of obtaining a law degree.

I plan to critique some of my experiences in government to speak about truth and reconciliation in this blog.

In the future, I plan to use my law degree in combination with my experience in government and community development to support Indigenous communities in asserting their inherent right to self-determination (and the right of self-government that flows from this) as a fundamental human right.

As a white settler, I see my role as one of advancing reconciliation by convincing other settlers to relinquish or stop using real or perceived power (including physical, emotional and economic violence) against Indigenous peoples. Similarly, I hope to someday contribute to peaceful co-existence between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and a legally pluralistic Canadian state, by way of negotiated agreements, like treaties, between sovereign Indigenous nations and the Crown, unfettered by racist Canadian laws.

I couldn’t be more excited to begin this blogging journey with you, dear readers.

Thank you for reading, and see you next week!

Philippe Johnson

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Volume 4 (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015) at 127.

[2] Portage College, “History” (Accessed January 10, 2023), online: Portage College <> [].

[3] Sam Laskaris, “Benefits of Indigenous tourism go well beyond the economics” (13 November 2020), online: Lakeland Today <> [].

[4] CBC News, “Jean Chrétien says he never heard about abuse in residential schools while he was minister” (25 October 2021), online: CBC <> [].

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