Kuei, Je te salue
Kuei, Je te salue
A book to put in everyone's hands, so that dialogue can take precedence over racism
In 2016, Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine and Quebec-American novelist Deni Ellis Béchard began a no-holds-barred conversation about racism between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. This literary and poetic encounter opened up a necessary dialogue and raised a series of questions. How can we live together if our common history is marked by shame, wounds and anger? How do we make white people realize the invisible privilege of historical domination? How do we heal Aboriginal people of the stigma of cultural genocide? In order to open a dialogue and begin the necessary reconciliation between our peoples, Deni and Natasha started from their personal trajectory and tried to flush out the words and behaviours that follow the paths of racism. Natasha recounts her discovery of residential schools, her obsession with the Oka crisis, and life on the Pessamit reserve; Deni talks about her father's ordinary racism, the segregation of African-Americans, and her identity as a Quebecer in the United States.
Five years and thousands of readers later, Deni and Natasha have decided to take up the pen and continue this "rendez-vous de la parole qui s'ouvre". Started in September 2020, their epistolary exchange revives the intimate tone and the intellectual abundance that characterized their first exchanges. Deni writes from Stanford, California, as wildfires ravage that territory and the presidential campaign is in full swing in the United States, in the midst of a pandemic, against a backdrop of rising extremes and hateful speech unleashed by four years of Trump's rule. It describes the unprecedented mobilization of the Black Live Matters movement in the wake of the heinous murder of George Floyd, the 46-year-old African American shot and killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Natasha was impacted by the Wet'suwet'en uprising against the Coastal GasLink pipeline across Canada and the colonialist hypocrisy of the Trudeau government's policy of recognition of Aboriginal people.
Then, in the midst of their exchanges, came the unthinkable: the death of Joyce Echaquan, a 37-year-old Atikamekw woman, under racist and humiliating insults from two nurses at the Joliette hospital. "An indignation rose. [In Montreal, the following Saturday, thousands of us marched for the recognition of systemic racism, such as that in the health services, and demanded justice. Her name is now attached to the word "justice": Justice For Joyce. A pain came over me. Since then, it has lived in my body like an old friend. I have not felt anger. I no longer have the strength. A pain so sharp, Deni. I cry for it almost every day."
Deni replies, "Dear nuitsheuakan, during this time of suffering and uncertainty, it is clear that the solution will come through a long and difficult path. [...] Recently, I have been looking at the history of social movements and I have become aware of the millions of people who have struggled so far. It's horrible to talk about patience when so many human beings are living under oppression, but we must persist and know that at the heart of everything we do is dialogue. There is a Greek proverb that says, "A society becomes great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit." I wish we had politicians who would one day ask themselves what to do today to have peace tomorrow. In the meantime, we have artists and activists like you."
Crossing their words, their indignation and their hopes, these two great writers offer us a humanistic and universal book on the relationship with the other and the respect of the difference.
Author: Deni Ellis Béchard and Natasha Kanapé Fontaine
Publication date: January 11, 2021
Number of pages: 204
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