“All Our Relations”: Opening Eyes to the Tragedy in Our Midst

Book Review by Amy Kellestine

Why are Indigenous people around the globe, as young as nine years old, killing themselves up to ten times more often than non-Indigenous people? The award-winning investigative journalist Tanya Talaga explores the root causes of this alarming trend and looks for answers in “All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward.”

The issues can be traced back to what is now recognized as the cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples around the world, from Canada to Finland to Brazil and elsewhere: separating them from their land, their families, and their way of life. For Talaga, it is personal. She descended from a survivor of the residential school system, in which Indigenous children across Canada were taken from their parents and kept in boarding schools which sought to make them conform to white society. This system was in place even before Canada became a country, and existed through the 20th century. In the essays, Talaga deftly weaves together current facts, historical anecdotes, and first-person accounts on a variety of issues.

Talaga’s passion for the topic is palpable as she shares eye-opening stories and heartbreaking statistics. Yet her obvious sense of urgency never crosses the line into anger, even when she relates stories like that of Brian Sinclair, who died of a treatable bladder infection after waiting thirty-four hours in a medical emergency room because the staff assumed he was either drunk or homeless and just killing time in the ER.

Indigenous land, history and values—overruled

I was shocked and dismayed at the repetitive nature of these wrongs. Talaga reveals that country after country, decade after decade, nations continue to harm Indigenous populations. Today’s values of power, success and control are in direct conflict with the values of Nature, community and harmony which the Indigenous people hold dear. Indigenous values get overruled in the name of “profit” and “progress.” For example, the Sami people living in Norway, Sweden, and northern parts of Finland and Russia, have traditionally been semi-nomadic reindeer herders. They lived symbiotically with the animals as they migrated around the region; however, new commercial developments encroach upon the land they call home. These arbitrary boundaries, created by businesses and government, interfere with the centuries-old migration patterns of the reindeer, disrupting the animals and the Sami way of life. The Finnish government then insists that Sami people must “prove” their land ownership, and charges the Sami fines when their animals cross these new boundaries. Similar patterns exist in many other countries like Canada, USA, and Brazil. Economic gain at the expense of Indigenous people is a consistent theme through the history this book explores.

I would have liked “All Our Relations” to include recommendations for readers to take action. I interpreted the collection of essays as a call for change, and it left me wanting to do something, anything, to help. The final section begins to touch on the resilience and civil rights activism of the Indigenous peoples, like the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, but I would have liked more stories of success, and more suggestions on how to best add my voice to the collective.

That said, “All Our Relations” is an excellent primer on the scars left by settler societies on Indigenous peoples. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, I highly recommend it for anyone who is willing to develop a deeper understanding of the painful legacy Indigenous cultures carry today.

Amy Kellestine headshotAmy Kellestine is an educator, engineer, Arati life coach and entrepreneur living in Edmonton, Alberta. She spends her free time camping, gardening, and volunteering for causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and nature conservation. She is a devoted mother and is passionate about helping others and writing.