“Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Metis & Inuit Issues in Canada”, by Chelsea Vowel

Review by Nancy Adams-Kramp

Published by Portage & Main Press, 2016

Indigenous Writes engages, enrages and engrosses. With boldness and wit, Chelsea Vowel presents a counter narrative to the foundational, historical and living myths most Canadians grew up believing. She punctures the bloated tropes that have frozen Indigenous peoples in time, often to the vanishing point. Reading Indigenous Writes, you feel like you are having a conversation over coffee with a super-smart friend, someone who refuses to simplify, who chooses to amplify, who is unafraid to kick against the darkness. Branding Indigenous Writes as required reading would make it sound like literary All-Bran. It is not, and far from it. What this book really is, is medicine.”
— Shelagh Rogers

High praise coming from the well-respected broadcast journalist Shelagh Rogers, herself an Officer of the Order of Canada and an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Committee. This quote appears on the back jacket of Chelsea Vowel’s 2016 book, a collection of thirty-one essays that explain the very complicated state of being indigenous in your own land.

Chelsea is a Plains Cree-speaking Metis from the Lac. Ste. Anne community, 70 km west of Edmonton. She is mother to 5, earned a B.Ed., has taught in Inuvik and delivered programs to Inuit youth in Montreal. She has an LL.B from the University of Alberta and is working on an M.A. in Native Studies. She has published in the Huffington Post, the National Post, The Toronto Star, Indian Country Media Network and has been interviewed several times by CBC radio, local radio stations and Al Jazeerah. She is well respected internationally and is often cited on indigenous-state relations.

Despite having been educated in Canada, raised in close proximity to three native reserves, and having indigenous friends, I shamefully must admit that Indigenous Writes was my first step towards a real education in Canadian history — as opposed to the Canadian history I learned in grade 9 and grade 13. The real stuff, not the half-truths and brazenly omitted huge chunks of what happened in this country and how we managed to end up with such a mess when it comes to the rights of the indigenous peoples of this land.

Chelsea attacks issues head on, with humour and wit, sarcasm and cynicism and clear, concise and well-organized information. She makes further research easy, as every chapter includes copious endnotes with links to her curated resources. She explains the terminology of identity — status, non-status, registered, membership, Metis, Inuit, cultural appropriation and two-spiritedness.

She examines the myths and stereotypes that most non-indigenous Canadians believe –subjects like taxation, free housing, free post-secondary education and aboriginal title. Each myth is carefully examined and analyzed and she does the math! She writes about the residential school legacy, the Sixties Scoop, the Millennial Scoop, whole-community relocations, drinking water, treaties, assimilation, the dog slaughter, the Indian Act, doctrines of colonialism, the White Paper and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

Chelsea has a blog at www.apihtawikosisan.com.

So many intellectual, well-educated folks, indigenous and non-indigenous, have been working at trying to solve these problems. It’s is easy for us to say, “what can I do, what can one person do?”

We can start by reading Indigenous Writes, Chelsea’s blog, Wab Kinew, Thomas King and Richard Wagamese. Each blog post, each book, leads to another. We can start by opening our minds to the indigenous view — we are the settlers here. It is our ancestors who took over these territories, bringing their laws and their diseases, changing the landscape forever. As we prepare to celebrate Canada’s 150 this year, let us examine what we are rejoicing in.