Talking to My Country
Reviewed by: John Stokdijk
Talking To My Country by Stan Grant are the words of a Black Aboriginal addressed to his country, Australia. Why would I, a retired Canadian living in Mexico, be interested in this book? It is because I know that Grant’s message would be the same if delivered by someone from a First Nation in Canada to someone like me, a white man. Slowly, very slowly over many years, I have become aware that I am a beneficiary of the wars of the conquest of North America by the Spanish, English and French. The words of Stan Grant are words that I should take personally.
Here is how we – indigenous people – see the Australian dream: here’s the worst of it. Aborigines rounded up and shot, babies buried into the sand and decapitated, women raped, men killed as they hid in the forks of trees, waterholes poisoned, flour laced with arsenic. The Australian dream abandoned us to rot on government missions, tore apart families, condemned us to poverty.
White people themselves were not the problem, the problem was a system built on white privilege.
I was a beneficiary of that system and I was blind to that fact most of my life.
Stan Grant researched his ancestry in considerable and colorful detail, including the origin of his European name.
John Grant, convict, was brought here and founded a dynasty… He died the wealthiest Irish Catholic in the colonies.
The story of Grant’s grandmother was equally fascinating.
Ivy Sutton was as white as a white person can be. She had blue eyes and blonde hair. Her background was German on her father’s side… When she was fourteen Ivy was thrown out of home… So Ivy moved in (with a Black man) that night and stayed more than twenty years, raising nine children and burying three more. I am stunned today at the audacity of my grandmother.
Sadly, the Australian story and the Canadian story are essentially the same.
My people are fewer than three per cent of the Australian population yet we are a quarter of the prison population… Jails breed depression and suicide… Over and over people are trapped in a cycle of violence, drugs and alcohol, mental illness, sexual abuse, unemployment and abject poverty.
The Canadian story was only vaguely known by most Canadians, including me, until 2008 when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was established. First Nations issues then became frequent front page news. In 2015 a report with 94 calls to action was tabled. The CBC tracks progress and “As of March 2018, 10 were marked as completed, 15 were in-progress with projects underway, 25 had projects proposed, and 44 were unmet.”
As I reflect on this, I realize that I know not a single person from a Canadian First Nation. I do not know who the Canadian equivalent of Stan Grant is. But he has done much more than talk to his own country.