All Our Relations by Tanya Talaga
Reviewed by Menaka Raman-Wilms
All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward is the written version of the 2018 CBC Massey Lectures. Delivered by journalist Tanya Talaga, this lecture series comprised of five lectures, each given in a different city across the country. The book All Our Relations has five chapters, one for each lecture in the series.
This work looks at the crisis of youth suicide in Indigenous communities across Canada. It begins by explaining that since 1986, there have been 558 suicides in Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory in Northern Ontario, and there have been 88 children aged 10 to 14 who have killed themselves. Similar realities are evident in communities across the country.
All Our Relations takes an in-depth look at the factors that have caused this crisis. It examines issues such as access to healthcare, schooling, and safe living conditions, and draws connections to the historical, cultural and social factors that have created this situation. It also discusses racism, inter-generational trauma, the legacy of residential schools and the current child welfare system. By examining all of these aspects, the book is able to show how things are interconnected, and how they all play a role in the present suicide crisis.
This book is both moving and effective; it creates the space for readers to understand the complexity of these issues. Through an examination of the context that has created the current situation, Talaga is able to illuminate the reasons behind this crisis.
Talaga also puts this issue into perspective by examining the experience of Indigenous people in other parts of the world. She looks at the history and experiences of Indigenous people in such places as Norway and Brazil, which connects Canada’s suicide crisis with the broader issue of the far-reaching effects of colonialism.
Originally written as lectures, each chapter uses specific stories of individuals to discuss ideas. It moves from the highly personal to the broader ramifications of these issues. The book is engaging, thought-provoking and captivating.
Though it is an excellent read, listening to the audio version of The Massey Lectures does allow for a more immersive experience. This is the work’s original format, and the storytelling, in particular, is much stronger when heard through Talaga’s voice. The audio also provides the context of how the lecture was delivered and who was present, as well as the interaction between Talaga and her audience. Finally, the lectures also let the listener understand the depth of Talaga’s compassion when speaking about this issue.
In essence, All Our Relations works to convey that there are complex reasons behind this complex problem. By focusing on how this situation has been created, the work aims to provide a place of understanding that can ultimately help to find the path forward.
All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward is published by House of Anansi Press.