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I just finished Lynn Gehls’ book The Truth the Wampum Tells.

I really enjoyed
this book. It is not a simple read. It is her dissertation translated to book form.
Scholarly tomes are meant to challenge the mind so they are not written to be a
facile walk in the park. The subject matter is as serious as serious can be: the
continuity of the Algonquin Nation as a cohesive community connected to their
traditional lands, living in a manner that embodies their language and culture.

The style of writing is academic but interestingly, it is circular. In the Indigenous
world the circular is sacred as embodied in the medicine wheel, the four spirit
directions, the circle in the longhouse. Each chapter is a journey around the
circle from the perspective of the view presented in each chapter title. This
approach allows the discussion of single events from 4 or 5 perspectives revealing
the nuances that would be missed with a more linear approach.

Through the chapters I travelled with Lynn from her upbringing in a mixed
family with clear Algonquin Anishinaabe roots. She was non-status as a re many
Algonquin. A fact that was new to me. The sex discrimination of the Indian Act,
denied her the right to partake of the benefits of her heritage as was my case until
2011 and Bill C-3. Status for Lynn remains an issue because sex discrimination
and assimilation remain active ingredients of that Act. I strongly identified with
the cultural frustration in this book as it mirrors my own experience.

Her book walks through her awakening awareness of the Algonquin Land Claims
and Self Governance, the Algonquin Peoples in the context of Canadian history,
to her awakening to the fact that the Algonquin were a people without a Treaty
with Canada. She then delves into the Treaty and Land Claims process as it
applied to the Algonquin seeking to formalize their existence with the colonial
Government of Canada.

The negotiations process and the political dynamic she describes was complex
and, it is symptomatic of the politics that seem to plague Indigenous issues across
Turtle Island. There are the cultural divides between reserve and non-reserve
Status Algonquians’, non-Status Algonquians’, non-Indigenous consultants and
non-Indigenous “white shirts” as I call them from INAC and the province. There
is paternalism and power plays and all the other signs of the impacts of
colonialism on traditional Indigenous Governance. To read it is to feel both
Lynn’s frustrations and worries and to feel my own worries for Indigenous People
as we struggle to overcome hundreds of years of paternalism, colonial strategies
to enforce assimilation through termination policies and government structures
meant to eliminate Indigenous People from Turtle Island.

This book though written in a scholarly manner will light a fire. It is easy to
identify with the issues and the challenges though the intimacy of detail that
comes from the methodology. Especially meaningful were her observations of
the toxic, wiindigo relationship between the government of Canada and
Indigenous People.

There are a few pictures to bring the reader to the sacred places of the Algonquin
and illustrations of her “new editions” of the historical Wampum Belts that tell
the Truth of the Treaties and the Indigenous relationship to colonial Canada.

As you read this book you will see the same issues that have stymied the journey
of the Algonquin People to their place of having a Treaty relationship with
Canada, are in the news today with the battle over Indigenous Educations and
Bill C-33, and the prolonged battles over land claims to name just two.

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