Starting Conversations About Indigenous Justice in Canada

Written on 09/28/2023
Ilana Reimer

Home on Native Land is a free 10-part course that welcomes participants into an engaging and laughter-filled conversation about Indigenous justice in Canada.

“We recognized that there was a real hunger in the national psyche to do something in order to reconcile and be involved in Indigenous issues,” says Andrea Palframan, director of communications at RAVEN, an organization that raises legal funds and campaigns for the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

RAVEN created the course to help non-Indigenous people understand and support Indigenous rights. Within seven months after it launched in February 2023, 7,000 people have enrolled in the course.

The course was developed in partnership with Stories First, an Indigenous-run agency, as well as the guests (a variety of legal scholars, artists, and Indigenous leaders) who were interviewed for each section of the course. Anishinaabe comedian Ryan McMahon hosts the conversations. He asks blunt questions and offers quirky metaphors to understand topics like treaty laws and the Doctrine of Discovery (the idea that Europeans had the right to claim sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples).

The course includes videos paired with text and cartoons; each part concludes with a thoughtful question that participants are meant to take with them to their journals or dinner tables. The conversations are smart and weighty but also fun, often including playful banter between the host and guest.

“We wanted to kind of disarm people with a refreshing and lighthearted approach—anticipating that people would be coming into this, possibly not under duress, but just with skepticism,” says Palframan. She hopes the course will appeal, not just to those who are already curious, but also those who are more wary of the conversation.

And this desire to cultivate conversation seems to be working. Palframan has been pleasantly surprised by the type of interactions their team has witnessed online. “Ordinary people who are part of the common threads will just jump in and try to educate each other,” she says. “And the tone is amazing. I don’t know if it’s because we’re using cartoons and so it just lightens the whole thing up or whether it’s people are actually learning from the resources how to have these conversations in a more lighthearted, invitational way … rather than you’re dead wrong and I hate you.”

Helping people who would normally not join a conversation feel welcomed and even able to enjoy themselves creates room for further dialogue.

“How do you get people to actually have the courage to have these conversations? Counterintuitively, it’s by teaching them how to diffuse the topic. Common ground and laughter … are really, really good ways of doing that.”

Various organizations, classrooms, and peer groups have adapted the course for group settings. Most of these are small grassroots reconciliation circles or book clubs that have used Home on Native Land as a jumping-off point for their discussions.

Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day offers an important reminder of the ongoing work needed to foster good relationships and support justice for Indigenous peoples in Canada. If you’re looking for a way to host a conversation about reconciliation with friends, family, or your church small group, Home on Native Land provides a great starting point.

“Our common ground is that we live on planet Earth,” says Palframan. “And so these caretakers who have laws and values that are very much aligned with being in good relation with other species and with the planet are incredibly important resources for us to draw upon. And I don’t mean that in an extractive way, I mean that in a collaborative way—like isn’t it amazing that there are these cultural and legal frameworks that are ancient and alive in this country that we can turn to?”

In the future, RAVEN hopes to produce more courses, including a much shorter, bite-sized course hosted by a TikTok star and a French language course. The hope is that these courses will not just be passively used by individuals but that they can be brought to life in festivals and places where people are gathered, creating more localized knowledge of Indigenous history and fostering a more genuine and robust conversation.