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Book Review: Troubling Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Education

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Troubling Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Education: Critical Perspectives. Edited by Sandra D. Styres & Arlo Kempf. Edmonton, Amiskwacîwâskahican, Treaty 6, Métis Territory: University of Alberta Press, 2022. xxv, 302 p. Includes biographical references. ISBN 9781772126006 (softcover) $46.99; ISBN 9781772126181 (ePUB) $46.99; ISBN 9781772126198 (PDF) $46.99. <uap.ualberta.ca>.

Reviewed by Ann Marie Melvie
Law Librarian
Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan

When I look at a non-fiction book I’ve read and see that I’ve highlighted sentences on almost every page, I know it resonated with me. Such is the case with Troubling Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Education, a collection of writings by Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and teachers gathered by editors Sandra D. Styres and Arlo Kempf.

Since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) final report was released in 2015, and especially since the 2021 findings of unmarked graves at former residential schools, the concept of reconciliation has been on the minds of many Canadians, me included. I am a non-Indigenous, settler Canadian. Many writings in this collection were a revelation for me and have challenged the way I think about reconciliation.

The cover image is striking. It is a work by Kevin Pee-Ace called From Residential Schools to Reconciliation. The original is a part of the University of Alberta Museums Art Collection. It is a sketch of the face of an Indigenous woman. On one side of her face are the bricks of residential schools, with a teardrop coming from her eye, a graveyard near the corner of her eye, and a cross on the building above her eyebrow. On the other side of her face, the land is cracked, and there are no leaves on the trees. To me, it represents all the things that have stripped Indigenous peoples of their freedom.

The contributors to this collection represent educational institutions across Canada. As the title suggests, the book looks critically at reconciliation by reviewing how it is being addressed in elementary and secondary institutions across the country. They trouble the concept, bother it, and make it feel uncomfortable. Many are hopeful that reconciliation can be achieved and discuss the challenges they have experienced. One contributor in particular wonders if reconciliation within the education system is even possible.

It makes sense that the education system plays a critical role in the reconciliation process. As the Honourable Murray Sinclair, former chair of the TRC, stated, “education got us into this mess … and education is the key to reconciliation” (p. 141). Ironically, as contributor Dawn Zinga points out, the TRC also viewed educational institutions “as among the institutions most responsible for causing and perpetuating the harm that needs to be reconciled as we move into respectful relations” (p. 40).

The editors hope the collection “will deepen and extend the current literature and thinking regarding colonization and decolonization in Canadian education” (p. xviii). I believe it does. Part I focuses on “theoretical approaches to reconciliation,” and Part II addresses “the more practical issues of reconciliation in education” (p. xix). The foreword by Dr. Jan Hare explains what is to come. Following this, the editors and two additional authors provide a thorough overview of the book in their introductory chapter “A Troubling Place to Start: Reconciliation in Collapse.” While I recommend reading the book from cover to cover, a reader could refer to this chapter to get an idea of what they might like to read. I was impressed with the extensive footnotes and bibliographies that follow each chapter, which make it easy to delve into further research. I also appreciated the contributor biographies found at the end of the book.

I am not an academic, and I have not been in the world of academia for quite some time. As a result, some chapters, especially in Part I, were tough slogging for me. Those who work in academia will have an easier time of it, although, frankly, 20-year-old me who was in teacher training many years ago would have had difficulty with some of the more academic chapters. The chapters in Part II, however, were more practical and easier to digest.

Ideally, every Canadian should read this book. Realistically, everyone involved in the education system, be it elementary school, high school, or post-secondary education, should read this book. I especially recommend it to those in positions of influence within the education system. While I think that students in teacher training programs across Canada would benefit from it, professors may wish to select which chapters would be best.

Troubling Truth and Reconciliation in Canadian Education is a book I would recommend adding to our law libraries. Reconciliation depends on everyone understanding the history of those who were here first and how the colonial system brought by settlers affected and continues to affect the lives of Indigenous peoples. Many of us did not learn about this when we were in school. We need to learn it now. This book can help build our knowledge of this important subject and allow us to do our part as we move toward reconciliation.

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