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Review: All Our Relations by Tanya Talaga

All Our Relations: Finding The Path Forward
Tanya Talaga
House of Anansi Press
2018, 320p
Read via my local library

Blurb {from the publisher/}: In this urgent and incisive work, bestselling and award-winning author Tanya Talaga explores the alarming rise of youth suicide in Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond. From Northern Ontario to Nunavut, Norway, Brazil, Australia, and the United States, the Indigenous experience in colonized nations is startlingly similar and deeply disturbing. It is an experience marked by the violent separation of Peoples from the land, the separation of families, and the separation of individuals from traditional ways of life — all of which has culminated in a spiritual separation that has had an enduring impact on generations of Indigenous children.

As a result of this colonial legacy, too many communities today lack access to the basic determinants of health — income, employment, education, a safe environment, health services — leading to a mental health and youth suicide crisis on a global scale. But, Talaga reminds us, First Peoples also share a history of resistance, resilience, and civil rights activism, from the Occupation of Alcatraz led by the Indians of All Tribes, to the Northern Ontario Stirland Lake Quiet Riot, to the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which united Indigenous Nations from across Turtle Island in solidarity.

Based on her Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy series, All Our Relations is a powerful call for action, justice, and a better, more equitable world for all Indigenous Peoples. 

This is the sort of book that feels like it should be mandatory reading.

It focuses on the higher-than-average rate of suicides amount young, indigenous populations in countries like Australia, Canada, the United States, Brazil and even Finland. Quite a few of those countries have a lot in common in that they were colonised a few hundred years ago and during that colonisation, there was a systematic attempt to wipe out the people that were already living in those lands. Although that didn’t work, they have then been forced onto smaller and smaller parcels of land, had their children removed from their care ostensibly to provide a “better life” which often resulted in episodes of terrible abuse. Then there’s the mental trauma of being removed from their families at young ages, denied their culture, forbidden to speak their languages.

All in all, this behaviour that took place over decades, has created generations of traumatised indigenous families who are exposed to suicide at a young age and those exposed often go on to take their own lives. There are cycles of abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction. Those of indigenous background often have access to subpar health and education, are discriminated against for employment opportunities and are victims of systemic and ingrained racism.

There are a lot of really terrible statistics in this novel (all references cited in the back) and I’m not going to regurgitate them here but it makes for incredibly uncomfortable and devastating reading. I know a little about the atrocities committed in my own country, how those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island identity have been treated, how in many circumstances, they are still treated. They represent a small, tiny increment of the population but are incarcerated in much higher numbers. They are incarcerated for much less serious crimes and are more likely to die in police custody. There was a Royal Commission into Indigenous deaths in custody established over 30 years ago during which almost 400 recommendations were made. Despite this, little has changed.

A lot of the information concerning other countries was new to me, particularly Canada and Brazil. I had no idea about the boarding schools that were created in Canada (although I have read about ones in the United States before), where children were forced from their families and made attend. These schools were often run by religious groups and the stories about the abuse and treatment of children supposedly in their care are horrific. Likewise I had no idea that hospitals for indigenous people only were established – these did not provide what you might call, exemplary medical care.

It doesn’t really seem a stretch to understand that removing children from their family units and forcing them to deny generations of teachings isn’t in people’s best interests but the colonisers were nothing if not determined to convert indigenous people if they couldn’t wipe them out completely. And that included religious conversion as well, which seems to really have been pushed in a lot of these places – it was often the same here as well, Christians going into Aboriginal camps and trying to convert them by any means necessary. It’s really hard not to resent organised religion when you look at the damage that has been done in so many places – not just these countries but you look at places like large swathes of Africa, the Pacific Islands and who knows where else.

The result of all of this are communities that are suffering. Young people are committing suicide in numbers many times higher in these communities than they do outside of it. It’s children as young as 12, some of them are making pacts in large numbers. I cannot imagine children of this age even knowing how to do such a thing. My oldest child is 12, my youngest is 9. Their contemporaries in these communities are exposed to this knowledge and readily able to replicate it and it’s just so incredibly sad that this is what children feel is an option for them. Mental health treatment seems so under resourced in so many areas, even when it’s identified that individuals need help, often it’s just simply not available. There needs to be a lot more funnelled into it, made a priority, especially in areas where people are most vulnerable. This book talks of elders and qualified people in communities begging for assistance, especially in Canada. The author is Canadian so that’s a lot of the focus, but the problems in other countries help solidify the issues and basically support the hypothesis on the long term causes.

Eye-opening, informative and distressing but written without being trauma porn.

(I’m choosing not to rate this but I think it’s the sort of book everyone should read and try to understand).

Book #70 of 2021

All Our Relations was read as part of my participation in the 2021 NonFiction Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out. It’s the 4th book read for the challenge and will be used to check off the prompt of Indigenous cultures.

1. Biography

2. Travel

3. Self-help

4. Essay Collection

5. Disease

6. Oceanography 

7. Hobbies

8. Indigenous Cultures

9. Food

10. Wartime Experiences

11. Inventions

12. Published in 2021

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