In a federal election that seems to have changed not much at all, perhaps the most consequential change occurred in the north-central part of Amiskwaciwâskahikan, where the voters of Edmonton-Griesbach have sent a young, two-spirit, Metis advocate to Ottawa. Team ReconciliACTION was honoured to sit with Alberta’s new Member of Parliament (MP), Blake Desjarlais, who shared his perspective on the project of reconciliation, the moment we find ourselves in today, the work to be done, and the role lawyers have in it.
“The truth part is what I’m interested in. That should be the process that takes the longest.”
For Desjarlais, the way reconciliation has been constructed and presented to the public is very strange, “you can’t demand forgiveness…I feel the process of reconciliation today demands that.” It’s been reinforced by a legalistic concept of justice focused on consequences and retribution, which he suggests leads us to see “the relationship between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people as a consequence to our existence and then it can be seen as something that we need to have punitive action for.” Instead of trying to absolve ourselves of the deep and lasting harms done here, we need to remember that “reconciliation isn’t a destination, it’s a process.” One that, according to Desjarlais, is “going to continue if we want our country to survive. Reconciliation has to be the founding piece and it has to stay part of it forever. As long as this land is here, reconciliation has to be here. Every person on Turtle Island must engage with this from now until eternity because what has happened can never be forgotten.”
“We should be talking about reconciliation every single day in Canada.”
Even though this election took place against the backdrop of thousands of children being found in unmarked graves on the sites of former residential schools, reconciliation did not appear to be an election issue. But that doesn’t reflect what Blake heard on the doors, “it’s not a forgotten issue for Canadians. It’s an ignored topic by the media. I’ve knocked on thousands of doors, talked to thousands of people, reconciliation comes up [every other conversation]. People talk about it and people are proud to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people, but they’re not being rallied in an appropriate way.” Today’s media operates on a news cycle that is constantly seeking the next breaking story, and reports that can be summed up in a 120 character tweet, it demands answers now. The process of reconciliation certainly does not fit that mold. Desjarlais believes the solution is having Indigenous voices in media “talking about reconciliation every single day.”
So, where do we go from here?
Blake is headed to Ottawa, one of ten Indigenous MPs in this Parliament  who will take on a system which has disappointed so many Indigenous people, not the least of whom is former MP, Mumilaaq Qaqqaq. “Parliament will be different knowing that Mumilaaq sat there. She’s brought Indigenous people in and now that we’re in there, we’re not going anywhere and we’re going to make sure the government continues to do the work that they promised to, or at least start.”
In the face of the eternal project of reconciliation, Blake suggests we start with the children. “The first step is to make sure children have what they need” – the resources, the cultural connection, and support that they need to survive, thrive, and grow. That community support is what Blake credits for getting him to Ottawa. He sees students of the law and legal professionals as having a unique responsibility to Indigenous children. Our words can’t do his call to action justice – so, we leave you with his, and ask, what will you do? Let us know in the comments below.
Until next time,