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Why creative acts of reconciliation matter

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Today’s post accompanies an updated ReconciliACTIONyeg logo.

Before we explain the choices we made on the redesign, we have a little more to share about why we decided to change the blog’s approach to content delivery this year.

Why creative acts of reconciliation matter

Some people feel that the term reconciliation lets people talk a big talk without following through with the necessary actions. Feeling discouraged and cynical is a normal response to systemic cruelties larger than any single person. Creative acts include storytelling, art, dancing, music, and showing up for each other; they can drive action by opening people’s minds in a way that reminds them of their power as an agent of change.

Creative acts address at least three challenges associated with reconciliation: First, they can disrupt the creative tactics used to justify the dispossession of Indigenous people. Second, they reclaim space for resurgent, knowledgeable, wise and strong Indigenous perspectives. And Third, creative acts allow difficult conversations to be framed beautifully enough that people might listen.

Creative acts were one tool used by agents of colonialism in order to justify dispossession of Indigenous people. Consider the landscape painter A.Y. Jackson’s representation in the 1941 film, Canadian Landscape. [1] Trumpets blare, as Jackson climbs over a rock face to conquer land represented as wild and empty by capturing it on his canvas. This representation of the artistic process reinforces the myth of terra nullius- that Canada was empty land before the arrival of Europeans.

Creative acts by Indigenous people can be powerful antidotes to these toxic myths of settler-colonialism. The story Nanabozho and the Rock Pictures, [2] like the film Canadian Landscape, is about art-making on rock faces: the Trickster Nanabozho is making paintings high up on a rock face when an Ojibway chief named Wabojeeg sees him and wants to learn. So Wabojeeg cuts stairs into the rock face to climb up and seek instruction. However, unlike A.Y. Jackson who plays the role of a singular hero on a conquest of nature, Wabojeeg seeks to learn the art of representation with humility so that it can be shared with his people.

Creative acts allow difficult conversations to be had beautifully. Events like Orange Shirt Day and Sisters in Spirit Vigils were conceived of with courage and creativity. These initiatives are helping to build empathy and advance conversations by be

ing strategic and creative. Most powerfully, they allow people who may just be starting to learn about harms to Indigenous people, communities and laws in a way that empowers them to act.

Two medicine wheel teachings: bringing your whole self and the cardinal directions

Some people may have different beliefs about what a medicine wheel is and what it signifies. The ReconciliACTIONyeg team brings our best understanding of the medicine wheel, but urges that if there is a conflict between what we say and what an elder says that the knowledge of elders should be respected.

The colours yellow, red, black and white on the medicine wheel each represent many layers of knowledge. One layer teaches that there is value in bringing all aspects of the self while walking through life. These aspects are the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. [3]

In legal settings we often rely on intellectual approaches to the exclusion of all others. Conversely, the Canadian legal system often sees Indigenous practices as only spiritual or only emotional, while intellectual aspects are ignored. Use of the medicine wheel in our new logo represents the need to bring the whole self in order to advance reconciliation.

Another layer of knowledge in the medicine wheel are the cardinal directions of East, South, West and North. The logo also makes use of the medicine wheel to situate the blog in Amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton), so that the shape of the North Saskatchewan River is identifiable with reference to the cardinal directions.

The North Saskatchewan River: centering land in acts of reconciliation

One action that must follow genuine talk of reconciliation is a renewed focus on land. Land is not just landscape; it’s a living network of relationships where all things are alive, including rocks and bodies of water. Indigenous cultures understand that land is a source of law. [4]

Land-based laws, in one sense, can be understood as bundles of principles that guide the conduct of all living beings as they navigate their network of relationships. Humans can observe these relational patterns to either model our own conduct or to argue that a different approach should be taken.

One way to reflect on the North Saskatchewan river is to walk beside it according to Nêhiyâw (Cree) scholar Dr. Dwayne Donald. [5] Dr. Donald explains that Saskatchewan is based on a Nêhiyâw (Cree) word, meaning river that flows at a swift walking pace. Because of this, Donald teaches, the North Saskatchewan river is meant to be walked beside.

We use the North Saskatchewan River in the new ReconciliACTIONyeg logo to recognize that it can teach us about reconciliation. Haida nation member Valine Crist thinks that non-Indigenous engagement with Indigenous law should “move at the speed of trust”. [6] This trust will not be built overnight. But perhaps, like the North Saskatchewan River, it can be built at a swift walking pace.

Thank you for reading and we hope you enjoy the logo

The ReconciliATIONyeg team.

P.S: This weekend is supposed to be nice weather to take a walk by the river :)


[1] See especially 4:48-10:19. This video can be accessed with a free National Film Board account

[2] Dorothy M. Reid, Tales of Nanabozho (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1963) at p. 96-102. A copy of this book is available for reference on the bookshelf at the Wahkohtowin Law and Governance Lodge at the University of Alberta.

[3] Check out Francis Whiskeyjack's medicine teachings here

[4] John Borrows, Canada’s Indigenous Constitution (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010) at 24; See also: Sarah Morales, “Stl’ul nup: “Legal Landscapes of the Hul’Qumi’num Mustimuhw” (2016) 33 Windsor YB Access Just 103 ; Nancy Sandy, “Stsqey’ulecw Re St’exelcemc (St’exelemc Laws from the Land”(2016) 33 Windsor YB Access Just 187.

[5] Dwayne Donald, “We Need a New Story: Walking and the wahkohtowin Imagination” (2021) 18(2) JCACS 53.

[6] Hannah Askew, “UNDRIP Implementation, Intercultural Learning and Substantive Engagement with Indigenous Legal Orders” in Braiding Legal Orders: Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Centre for International Governance Innovation) 189 at 195.

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