First Steps on my Reconciliation Journey


kathleen bertrand -latin groundwork for my indigenous education-3By Kathleen Bertrand

For most of my life, I have been privileged enough that injustice seemed to be somewhere else. I grew up in a middle class neighbourhood in a suburb of Vancouver. My family looked like families I saw on TV and read about in books: a white mum and dad, living in a detached house on a cul-de-sac where my siblings and I were free to roam from house to house. For the most part, my friends sounded like me, looked like me and lived like me. As I grew older and began to learn about injustices like poverty, war and racism, I knew I would have a place in the fight against them. I understood I would have to go find it—the fight would most definitely happen in another neighbourhood and probably in another country. Injustice was very firmly “out there.”

Then, a light switched on.

I don’t remember the first time I heard about residential schools. Perhaps in a high school history textbook or from my first (and only) indigenous professor in college. I do remember, however, that reading about children forcibly removed from their homes and abused at schools run by churches and the government, was my first glimmer of understanding that perhaps injustice wasn’t as far away as I had believed. I could find it in my own neighbourhood, on the reserve, just a few more blocks past my best friend’s house.

I went on to earn a degree in Anthropology from a university which has a long relationship with BC First Nations. Critically examining Canada’s history was an important part of my curriculum. I spent hours reading scholarly articles about the exploitation of indigenous people by anthropologists. I took reams of notes from lectures about the theft and sale of cultural property. For a few semesters I assisted a professor who was working on digital repatriation of Northwest coast cultural heritage housed in institutions around the world.

Yet the injustice of my country’s treatment of our indigenous people remained at an arm’s length. Of course, I was outraged at the horrific abuses. My heart broke for the generations of children who had been torn away from their families, their homes, their language, from anything familiar. But I couldn’t yet see what that meant for my life. I hadn’t yet acknowledged the ongoing injustice still happening today.

That started changing for me in the past year. I can now see how the shift was prompted by two things. The first was a phrase. I kept bumping into the words, “We are all treaty[1] peoples.” I slowly realized that treaties bind us all together in an active relationship, with responsibilities on both sides. I woke up to the role my family and I played in condoning such a racist system and how I directly benefit from it. The second was prompted by my One Word last year: Groundwork. My intentionality around laying groundwork, helped me resist the urge to spring into action. I realized before I could act, I needed to put my head down and learn.

So, I started reading. I read about the Doctrine of Discovery and Terra Nullius. I read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Summary. I read stacks of books by indigenous authors on topics ranging from residential schools to aboriginal sci-fi.

I started listening. I subscribed to indigenous feeds on Facebook, sought out radio podcasts hosted by aboriginal people and discovered a love of contemporary Inuit throat singing.

I started showing up. Along with my husband and children, we witnessed the raising of a Reconciliation Pole at my alma mater. I walked through a favourite trail with an indigenous guide and saw the plants in a completely new light. I spent some time with an artist carving a welcome post which was co-created in my community. I linked arms with friends and marched in the Walk for Reconciliation.

Most importantly, I started questioning. How and when did my family come to Canada? Why did they come here? Where did they go? Whose land did they live on and how did they get it? I am in the early stages of this journey. I have a lot of work to do.

I can see how the threads tying me back to the town I grew up in, back to farms in Saskatchewan and Ontario, back further still to overcrowded cities in Ireland and Scotland, are also now intimately tied to the threads of the women who never came home from the farm beside the place where I buy groceries. These threads tie me to the babies who were scooped up from their mama’s arms and given away and to the people who gathered food in the forests cut down to make room for my home.

Injustice is no longer far away. It is literally the ground beneath my feet.



Here are some of the books which have stood out to me along my journey so far. If you have some suggestions, I would LOVE to add more titles to my To Read List.

Some books I read with my kids (who are now six and four):

Animals of the Salish Sea by Melaney Gleesan-Lyall

When We Were Alone by David Alexander Robinson

 Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe by Nicola Campbell

The Moccasins by Earl Einarson



A Stó:lõ-Coast Salish Historical Atlas

Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (the 94 Calls to Action can also be found here.)

Unsettling the Setter Within by Paulette Regan

In this Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation edited by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King



They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at An Indian Residential School by Bev Sellars

One Native Live by Richard Wagamese

The Reason You Walk: A Memoir by Wab Kinew



The Break by Katherena Vermette

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp

Take Us to your Chief and Other Stories by Drew Hayden Taylor (indigenious Sci-Fi!)

Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson

Celia’s Song by Lee Maracle (this one stills haunts me, I have never read a book like this one)

Glass Beads by Dawn Dumont

Witness, I am by Gregory Scofield


Other Resources: 

Unreserved: CBC Podcast

The University of Alberta offers a MOOC called Indigenous Canada.

Kairos Blanket Exercise

If  you are in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, I also found it very powerful to visit Robert Pickton’s farm (right behind Costco in Port Coquitlam).

The nearest residential school to us was in Mission, in Fraser River Heritage Park.


[1] I must acknowledge here that almost all of BC is currently on unceded territory. There has never been a treaty signed for the land I currently live on. It was taken from the Coast Salish people, plain and simple.


About Kathleen:

Kathleen I was born and raised on the West Coast of Canada, but half my heart lives in Brittany, France. I am happiest with a cuppa tea and a good book and I spend the rest of my time in between the mountains and the beach in Port Moody, BC with my husband and two wee ones.