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Ladysmith editor’s book argues land is central to real reconciliation

Ann Rogers and Taiaiake Alfred collaborate on ‘It’s All About the Land’
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Taiaiake Alfred and Ann Rogers lead the conversation during a book tour stop for It’s All About the Land in Kahnawà:ke, Mohawk Territory, outside Montreal. (John Hill photo)

BY DUCK PATERSON

A Ladysmith editor says when it comes to reconciliation, “until we get to work on the issue of land, we aren’t really addressing the fundamental problem in the relationship.”

Longtime Ladysmith resident Ann Rogers was referring to the underlying essence of the new book that she collaborated on with well-known Kahnawà:ke Mohawk scholar and activist Taiaiake Alfred.

A book launch for It’s All About the Land will happen in Ladysmith next week. In the collection of speeches and interviews, Alfred explores how racism and colonization continue to shape Indigenous relationships in Canada and what reconciliation can and cannot do.

As a young man in the 1980s, Alfred served with the U.S. Marines in Central America. Rogers said it provoked an identity crisis, so he started studying American history at night school. In 1990 his community was involved in the Oka crisis, which politicized him. He went on to get a PhD in politics at Cornell University, and began working for his First Nation’s government.

He headed the University of Victoria’s Indigenous governance program for about 20 years before stepping down in 2019 and now works again for the Kahnawà:ke government and in environmental consulting for First Nations communities.

The book, which will be launched in Ladysmith on Wednesday, Sept. 27, deals with the fallout of colonization and dispossession.

“Taiaiake is an amazing thinker and speaker, and he’s very inspiring,” said Rogers. “We’ve had a really successful collaboration exploring these issues and we’re excited to share the book that resulted.”

Rogers said Alfred’s way of looking at things shook her up. She heard him lecture at Vancouver Island University a few years ago, and realized that she had been thinking about reconciliation “all wrong.”

“He explained that the relationship between First Nations and their lands is what defines them, they are part of the land and seas. It gives them their traditional foods and medicines, their spiritual places, their ceremonies and languages, and in return they’re responsible for taking care of it, and passing all of this on to their children, and on into the future,” she said.

Colonization, she added, drove a bulldozer through that relationship, and so the challenge is to repair the damage so Indigenous peoples can rejuvenate their cultures. But Canada needs access to Indigenous lands for economic reasons, and isn’t willing to give up control, she noted.

“So even though things are getting better for Indigenous people – less racism, more respect, a bigger slice of the economic pie and so on – as long as they are ruled by Canada, they can’t live authentically Indigenous lives,” she said.

The University of Toronto Press immediately recognized the importance of Alfred’s argument, Rogers said, as some other recent books on reconciliation imply that the wrongs are all in the past. The book was released Sept. 12 and has been well-received, the editor said.

Rogers has had a lengthy research and writing career, including more than four years as deputy editor of Jane’s Intelligence Review in the U.K. She contributed regularly to Jane’s on Canadian politics and international affairs. She was also a lecturer on international relations at the Royal Military College of Canada and taught political studies and international relations at VIU for 15 years.

Rogers’s family first came to Ladysmith in the early 1900s and had the Ladysmith Trading Company until about 2009.

“I grew up with the idea that my family came here, worked hard, and became successful. I was never taught about residential schools, about pushing the Stz’uminus off their lands not that long before my great-grandfather arrived,” she said. “Nowadays I work part-time in the Ladysmith Archives, trying to re-think the way I understand my own history here.”

It’s All About the Land is available at Strong Nations and online through the University of Toronto Press. Alfred and Rogers will present the book on Wednesday, Sept. 27, from 5-7 p.m. at the Ladysmith Museum.

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