A reading list for being good kin

We are kin. We have relationships that persist over time and exist in both legal and social practices. But what does it mean to be good kin? When I introduce myself in Ojibwe, following the protocols I was taught, I give people my name, my clan (caribou) and my community – the latter known officially as Lac Seul First Nation, but what we call the place of the white pine narrows. Introductions like this offer more than a name; they offer social context about how we are located geographically and temporally. This is not a habit peculiar to Indigenous peoples. My German grandmother did much the same thing whenever she met other German people, identifying her family and the places that they have lived over time, providing context for herself as well as looking for places of connection between them. One way to understand settler identity is to see it as a process of disconnection from our history, so refusing that disconnection through these kinds of introductions is an important way in which we all return to ourselves.

To answer the question of how we become good kin, I do what I always do. I offer you books and a podcast that help us think through our relationships not only to the states we live under but to each other and the land itself. In that way, we reimagine how settlers can understand and then fulfill their treaty obligations.

The Trickster Riots (2022) 

“I want the land back, yes / but even more / I want the land to want me back.”  This collection of poetry by Taté Walker (Lakota) gives voice to ways that we feel about land and the relations we enact on and with it, including some pieces that deal very specifically with treaties and how living in a world where treaties are honoured could look. The poem “Critical Remembrance” imagines what life could have been like if these treaty relationships were unbroken. Walker knows, as do Indigenous peoples elsewhere, that treaties aren’t just about the agreements made between people. They are agreements made between people as well as the land and everything contained within that land, including waters, plants, and animals. This expansive way to think about treaty relationships is reflected in Walker’s writing.

“in a Treaty-honored world / maybe we don’t have to say things like / sacred land / because to do so would imply that / Océti Sakówiᶇ territory / wasn’t already sacred / because it just is / and has always been”

Pollution Is Colonialism (2021) 

Staying with this idea of extending our treaty relationship to the other-than-human world, Max Liboiron (Métis) offers us a way to think about pollution as an essential part of the colonial project, not just an unfortunate consequence of it. Furthermore, not only are ideas about waste removal built on colonial entitlement to land, but that entitlement is present in environmental movements as well. I also appreciate the methodologies Liboiron offers to decolonize our practices in research and writing, like using Canadian spelling even though their book is published in the U.S. because “words come from a place,” or marking the people being cited, the way I marked Liboiron as Métis and Walker as Lakota, to reflect the ways that these authors have identified themselves. Liboiron uses the term “unmarked” to reflect people who have not offered a stated identity rather than imposing a generally known identity that may not reflect how they see themselves. It carries that practice of introduction and context-making into our work, challenging the normative whiteness of settler colonialism.

Chími Nu’am (2023) 

While we’re thinking about the natural world, I have to offer you a cookbook. Chími Nu’am by Sara Calvosa Olson (Karuk) takes the traditional foods of her community in northern California and puts them in our kitchens. She moves us through seasons rather than categories, offering us recipes as a way to think relationally about our food. The labour-intensive work of harvesting and processing acorns for flour, for example, becomes a practice of engaging with the natural world as well as with her sons. It becomes a time of sharing stories and history.

Movement Memos (ongoing) 

I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts, but I do listen to Movement Memos regularly because Kelly Hayes (Menominee) has a knack for knowing what organizers need in a particular moment, like a recent “Vigil for Palestine” episode that featured reflections from a range of activists about Palestine, providing us not just with facts about what is happening but with their feelings about those facts. Her capacity to tap into people’s emotions around the harms of colonialism in a given moment and then move us from those feelings to useful action is something I haven’t encountered very often.

Rehearsals for Living (2022) 

This book makes me want to write letters. There is something slow and beautiful about this collection in which Robyn Maynard (Black) and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (Michi Saagiig Nishnaabekwe) write letters to each other reflecting on their own relationship to the lands where they live. Maynard writes from Toronto and Simpson from Peterborough, reflecting perhaps unintentionally the colonial placement of Blackness in urban spaces and Indigenous people outside them. They reflect on history and current circumstances, on the relations that have been both built and prevented between their communities, including Indigenous erasure and anti-Blackness. Reading these letters helps us to imagine and consider our own relations, who we could reach out to and how we might have difficult conversations about what it means for us to share space and become good kin.

 Capitalism and Dispossession: Corporate Canada at Home and Abroad (2022)  

Canada is, the meme goes, three mining companies in a trench coat, and this book of essays and case studies, edited by David P. Thomas (unmarked) and Veldon Coburn (Algonquin), looks at Canadian colonialism at home and abroad through the lens of Indigenous peoples impacted by Canadian-owned corporations as they continue their participation in the nation-building process. Living in good relation with each other means thinking about how the government that represents us behaves elsewhere, and the development of transnational solidarities that begins by understanding what is happening in those places.

In whatever action you take, do you have the consent of the land and the people of that land? If not, how will you establish those relations?

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