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From Wawmeesh's notebook 

Hi, <<First Name>>. While doing research for my investigation into how small Canadian towns deal with reconciliation, I was struck by a question that hadn’t occurred to me before: What do white people (I use the term white people to refer to the dominant group in small Canadian towns) have to say about reconciliation? And how do I capture that honestly without getting people’s backs up?

I asked myself this question three weeks ago while on a reporting trip to my hometown of Port Alberni, B.C. It’s the only part of my story that I had trouble navigating. Would a white person feel uneasy if I asked for their thoughts on reconciliation — particularly if they were against it? Would they be honest with me, a journalist who happens to be Indigenous? Would I be able to get as close to the truth as possible?

I got mixed results. Some of the white people I approached for interviews didn’t want to talk. In fact, one key source who opposed reconciliation cancelled our interview at the last minute; he told me he had another commitment, but didn’t take me up on my offer to reschedule. When I conducted streeters, the white people I spoke to said they’d heard others scoff at reconciliation and at “the Natives,” but still wouldn’t refer me to their contacts. “I don’t know them; I just overheard them,” was a common response. 

The white people I did end up interviewing had differing definitions of reconciliation. Some were confused and didn’t know what it was. Others wanted to know what it’d cost, why they should pay and why we all can’t just be the same.

A few members of Port Alberni’s community Facebook pages have even voiced their opposition to reconciliation caustically, with hints of racism. But when you peel away the raw outer layer of their posts, I get the sense that they feel they belong to their hometowns as much as anyone else, and genuinely want to understand reconciliation.

This debate, although challenging, must happen. How else will I know what people are thinking unless I hear them out, and try to understand their concerns?

Do you know a non-Indigenous person who’s apprehensive about reconciliation, and is willing to speak on the record about it? Contact me via Facebook, Twitter or email. Finally, if you enjoyed reading this, please tell your friends to subscribe.

Thanks for joining me on this journey of reconciliation, 
Wawmeesh

ICYMI

  • In this Q&A, I interview Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan about why small towns face bigger challenges than big cities when it comes to reconciliation.
  • The 2017 Walk for Reconciliation is almost here. Reconciliation Canada explains how to get involved.
  • Writer Stephen Marche looks at reconciliation through the lens of Indigenous territorial acknowledgement in this thought-provoking New Yorker piece.
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