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Sunday, October 6, 2019

Trust, Truth and Reconciliation

Truth and Reconciliation has numerous road blocks to overcome. One of these is what I am coming across daily; educators are worried about the potential repercussions of being truthful with their students.

I have come across another, being slandered by a twitter troll.

Someone tweeted that I was not Metis, that I was using my Metis status for financial  gain. This occurrence is worth sharing in order to highlight the reality of dishonest trolls on social media and to call on all Canadians to join in the fight for social justice.

I began writing about 25 years ago. I did well with two of my early books, If you're Not from the Prairie (on McLean's list of the top 20 Canadian children's books of all time) and The Elders are Watching. These successes opened the door for what became more books and a few awards. One was Voices from the Wild, published by Raincoast in Canada and by Chronicle out of San Francisco. I was the first and the only Canadian to win the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award awarded for the single best book of poetry to come out of the US in any one given year. I then wrote a series of five books on China, a few more on the prairie (my homeland), a few children's books and two books on reading. These two allowed me the freedom to begin conference work and school visitations.

What is key in this is that my first decade of writing was my most successful and that that was before I learned about and recognized my Metis background. My most successful days as a writer were prior to acknowledging my Metis lineage.


Somewhere along my journey, I did what so many Metis do. I sought to learn about my family's history.

I was quite sure that I had Native blood. Bouchards have been in Canada for 400 years. Merciers have been here as long. I wanted to know who they were so that I might keep their names alive. I wanted to honour those who live in me and who go on living through me.

I would accomplish this by learning where they had lived and died and by coming to  know something of their struggles. Today, I honour the man shown here, the man after whom I was named, my Grandfather Pierre Mercier.

What I came to learn was amazing. You can imagine how excited I was to learn that  my Chippewa Grandfather Pierre Charbonot had signed the Menominee Treaty of 1848. In signing that treaty, he gave up his rights to his land and was forced to leave Bay Settlement and travel west. So they moved to Minnesota, then to South Dakota and finally to Saskatchewan.

I came to learn all this after I hired a genealogist from Green Bay because I knew my family had lived around the Great Lakes.

Showing here is a letter that this genealogist wrote after accumulating legal documents going back to my Ojibwa Grandfather and my Osage grandmother.

Back to the troll/tweet. I heard through one of my publishers that a social media troll had tweeted that I was not Metis and was claiming Metis heritage for financial gain.

A person unknown to me had tweeted that, twenty years ago, I had been denied membership to the Metis Nation of BC.

I went to her Twitter page and asked her why she hadn't reached out to me before her posting.

I wrote that I had indeed been denied membership to the MNBC, something that happens to many seeking membership. I explained that MNBC told me I needed  more proof of my ancestry. I explained (to this stranger) that I had hired a professional genealogist whose word no one would dispute. Had she reached out to me before posting, I would have gladly shared the information showing my ancestry. I quickly started to understand that she didn't care about the truth but merely sought to defame me. She didn't acknowledge my messages or the letter authenticating my Metis lineage.

This was my first and only encounter with a social  media hater. I knew they existed but here was one at my doorstep. Where this would lead was not terminal but it was unfortunate.

The publisher who had heard about this posting cancelled my newest book and removed me from her list of Indigenous directors. She informed me that some retailers had been told about this posting and were concerned enough not to buy our books. These were people who had not read her tweet but had heard from others, others who had picked up on her hate and had unscrupulously spread the gossip.

I reached out to my lawyer who referred me to another lawyer who referred me to yet another. In order to sue for libel, a person has to put up around $50,000. The lawyers  I spoke with all assured me that this was a case I would win however, I simply didn't have that kind of capital.

Nothing has come of this. These trolls continue doing what they do.

Life goes on. However, there is something to be learned from it.
In order for the recommendations for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to succeed, we are all going to have to courageously do our share. I will have to fight this fight. Educators will have to  stand up and call out trolls and haters. They are quite obvious in their messages. Publishers are going to have to be strong in what they are doing. It is so easy to turtle and look away.

Social Media is often not a medium that brings people together as it was created to do. It can be and is being used as a platform that hurts and tears people apart.

If you hear anyone spreading hurtful lies or gossip, call them out. Those who spread gossip are as guilty as the source from which the gossip originated.


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