CLI Elders Discuss Reconciliation – Transcript

Reconciliation: Elders Rodney Burns, Stan McKay, and Garry McLean

About This Episode

Porcupine Podcast Episode 1: Collaborative Leadership Initiative Elders Rodney Burns, Stan McKay, and Garry McLean, discuss reconciliation.

Reconciliation isn’t just about learning about each other’s values because both cultures have values towards land, but it’s also about sharing the wealth of the land, meaning the resources of the land. In this episode Merrell-Ann and Michael discuss reconciliation with three elders: Rodney Burns, Stan McKay, and Garry McLean. They attempt to define the concept of reconciliation and talk about their concerns, fears, and hopes for the future.

Listen to Episode 1, and View the Episode 1 Show Notes here

Episode Introduction

Stan McKay (00:00): The Indian act exists in part because of our fear.

Garry McLean (00:03): That would be $22 billion just from those two resources, should go to the Anishinaabe people.

Stan McKay (00:09): The Indigenous lived here for thousands of years. But this country here, we’ve been here about 150 years now, how did we screw it up so? In 150 years, so bad?

Merrell-Ann Phare (00:21): This is Porcupine. I’m Merrell-Ann Phare.

Michael Miltenberger (00:23): And I’m Michael Miltenberger and we’re the hosts of the Porcupine podcast.

Merrell-Ann Phare (00:24): In this podcast series, we’re exploring reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. We’re looking at its funny educational touching and difficult aspects, and also its prickly parts.

Michael Miltenberger (00:39): Speaking of prickly parts, maybe we should explain why we call it Porcupine?

Merrell-Ann Phare (00:43): Yeah. Okay. So there’s this old joke that goes how do two porcupines hug?

Michael Miltenberger (00:48): Carefully.

Merrell-Ann Phare (00:50): And such is the story of reconciliation, at least so far.

Meet Garry McLean.

Merrell-Ann Phare (00:59): So we’d like to start by introducing you to three elders that Michael and I are working with in a project called the Collaborative Leadership Initiative. You can find more about that project at But these three folks are elders that grew up within 100 miles of each other and have worked on some of the biggest projects Canada has faced. The first person, Garry McLean, is from Lake Manitoba First Nation, has spent most of his career working in the federal or provincial governments, and is now working assisting or advising in First Nation politics. He’s also the lead complainant in the First Nation residential day schools case, which made an announcement in December of last year that they had finally reached a settlement with the federal government

Garry McLean (01:49): [Speaking Ojibway] My, ah Christian name is Gary McClean. I’m originally from Lake Manitoba first nation reserve, which is part of Treaty Two Territory.

Meet Rodney McDonald.

Merrell-Ann Phare (02:06): Our second guest is Rodney McDonald, who was one of the longest term and most respected mayors in Southern Manitoba.

Rodney Burns (02:14): My name is Rodney Burns. I was on council in the rural municipality of McDonald for 27 years.

Michael Miltenberger (02:23): Folks where he lives, don’t often encounter Indigenous people and certainly don’t work with them on a daily basis.

Meet Stan McKay.

Merrell-Ann Phare (02:30): Our third guest is Stan McKay, who was the 34th moderator of the United Church of Canada, and the very first Aboriginal person to have held such a post. And he works on reconciliation issues full time.

Stan McKay (02:48): [speaking Cree] My name is Stan McKay. I come from which Ochekwi-Sipi, Fisher River First Nation.

The Meaning of Reconciliation

Merrell-Ann Phare (02:55): Well, hello to all of our guests. And I think where we’d like to start just with the basics, maybe Stan, can you just give us a sense where, what does this term reconciliation mean? What’s it about?

Stan McKay (03:10): The first time I heard of the term reconciliation, I knew someone who had a small business who had their financial statement and at the end of the day, they had to reconcile at the bottom. They have to reconcile. Okay. Make it makes sense, practical sense. And so I think reconciliation is making, making practical sense out of a history that has torn us apart has, has made no sense.

Merrell-Ann Phare (03:34): So we all know that there’s a lot of talk about reconciliation right now, and some folks are skeptical, but it gets lost for me a lot in these big lofty debates. And so I was just wondering, Stan, what’s the, can you explain to me your personal experience with why this is an issue now? Like what’s the history that got us here?

Dependency Payments

Stan McKay (03:56): What has happened over the history of my village in the last 60 years is that we’ve gone from being independent, self-sufficient on the land, to receiving rations, partial sort of compensation, a little bit of groceries every month to dollars. Again, enough to be subsistent to survive. They call it welfare, but it’s not welfare. It’s dependency payment. The hope was we would disappear. There’d be no more Anishinaabe, there’d be no more Cree. We’d be integrated in a way that our value systems would disappear and we’d all be just citizens of Canada. Well, it’s not quite that simple.

Merrell-Ann Phare (04:41): No, it’s not. But at a certain level, there’s really practical kind of implications or a practical result of being integrated into the rest of society. And I know Rodney is dying to say something,

Rodney Burns (04:56): I guess I’ve always lived the way I’ve lived. So does living that, the living on a reserve, is that a way that a person would prefer to live?

Rodney Burns (05:07): I think everybody should have owned their own land.

Reconciliation and the Relationship to Land

Merrell-Ann Phare (05:10): So it doesn’t take long for the issue to come down to this, to, to land. Rodney, why do you think people need to own their own land?

Rodney Burns (05:20): If you don’t own your own land and you don’t own your own property, you don’t have that equity that you should have, you know? You should have been your own person.

Stan McKay (05:29): But our understanding in the Anishinaabe of teaching is that we don’t own the land.

Merrell-Ann Phare (05:35): So it sounds like it’s not that First Nations don’t feel that they have equity in the land. It’s just that they have a relationship with the lands that, that’s different. Their equity, their connection to the land is different. It’s not the same as would be in Western legal or financial systems. And I remember Stan, you told me about this situation once when you were trying to get a business going?

Stan McKay (05:55): When I was living in it back home, I wanted a, I wanted to buy the little general store in the, in the village. The bank said you don’t have any equity, the building’s on the reserve, you don’t have, we’re not going to invest in that. So I went to Indian Affairs. I sat with their bureaucrats around the table to make an application for a small loan. And they said, ‘Oh yeah, we can give you a loan, but we can’t compete with the banks. There’s legislation and we can’t compete with banks. So we’ll give you a loan 19%.’

Question: Do you think that ownership should be something that First Nation should be considering regarding their land?

Merrell-Ann Phare (06:21): I remember when you first told me about that example, I was so incredibly annoyed by it because it looks a lot like they’re saying indigenous people can succeed, just not at the expense of anybody around them, outside the reserve. So, but I want to ask a different question, Stan. So the, do you think that ownership should be something that First Nation should be considering regarding their land?

Stan McKay (06:51): The whole idea of ownership is not the way that the world can protect itself. It’s a, it’s an idea that individuals have rights, but the community really doesn’t. And that’s contrary to, I think what we’ve learned – the community has to live together.

Rodney Burns (07:06): That’s really, really interesting.

Stan McKay (07:08): Our concept was that we have a territory and we take what we need from the territory, but we don’t own the land. In fact, an elder used to say, he used to teach me, the land owns us. So we, we look after the land, we belong to the land.

The Link Between Land and Poverty

Michael Miltenberger (07:25): Gary, there’s a link between not having any land and poverty issues. You’re from Lake Manitoba First Nations, have you and your folks received all the land you’re entitled to under your treaty?

Garry McLean (07:37): My treaty was signed in 1971, it was supposed to be 625 acres for a family of five. So at that time there was 37 families. But today my reserve is 2,265 people. And we’ve never gotten the land increase.

Merrell-Ann Phare (07:55): Stan, in simple terms, what’s the meaning of the treaty, when it comes to land?

Stan McKay (07:59): The treaty was an attempt to say, we’re going to live together in a good way on this land and we belong to the land, but all the settlers came and said, ‘well, I’m going to have this two sections.’ And now there are farmers who own more land than my reserve and, ah, and they wonder why we’re poor.

Merrell-Ann Phare (08:16): I think it’s a two-way poverty, actually. In different sense, non-indigenous society has very limited or no access to the fundamental values that – the relationship with the land, the land owns you – and the teachings and the key messages that come from that.

What Are We Missing in Reconciliation?

Michael Miltenberger (08:40): Gary, what’s the reconciliation conversation on this? What do you think we’re missing?

Garry McLean (08:48): My mishoomis (grandfather in Ojibway) died in 67 and some of his last words were, “Look after the land and look after the people that are here, [Speaks Ojibway].] meaning white people. He said those are our guests. And of course you don’t want to. I was 14 years old. I was, had been slapped. And how the hell am I going to respect somebody that’s going to be… Like, it was really confusing. But the grand- the old people [Speaks Ojibway]. Like whether it be Cree, Ojibwe, Inuit, [Speaks Ojibway].  

That’s what we say: ‘The land owns us.’ [Speaks Ojibway] It’s up to me to watch the river. It’s up to me to watch the grass. It’s up to me to watch the trees. And it’s up to me to watch the animals. It’s also up to me to watch the [Speaks Ojibway], meaning the visitors, settlers that are here. And that concept is, we lived it. When you came to our place, my mom and dad would, you would sleep on their bed, and they would feed you first. Cause you were a guest. And if kids, hey if you brought kids along, those kids would sleep on our beds, and we would sleep on the floor. And all of you, the guests would eat first. You know, uh, maddening at times, but going to get to understand it, it makes sense. It really does make sense.

The Word Reconciliation Scares a Lot of White People

Merrell-Ann Phare (10:08): Rodney, I just wanted to turn to you for a moment because you haven’t said anything for awhile. What are you thinking about reconciliation?

Rodney Burns (10:17): The word reconciliation scares a lot of white people. It does.

Garry McLean (10:22): Anishinaabe people, too though. 

Rodney Burns (10:23): Does it?

Garry McLean (10:25): Oh, yeah.

Rodney Burns (10:25): We don’t know what reconciliation really is. What is it? I don’t even know.

Merrell-Ann Phare (10:30): Well, if we don’t know, what do you think we need to do first?

Rodney Burns (10:34): Well, I think we have to get along more and better first, and understand better first. Get our thinking clearer.

Michael Miltenberger (10:42): Stan?

Stan McKay (10:44): Well, my approach is usually to try to encourage people to, to acknowledge that we are people gifted with a history, with an understanding of, of land and resources. A high level of, of a spirit of independence, but that’s being crushed.

Merrell-Ann Phare (11:04): It seems like we have a long way to go.

Stan McKay (11:08): I really see a difficult, difficult time reaching the goals. It’s a big challenge.

Starting at the Beginning: Faith in Collaboration.

Merrell-Ann Phare (11:17): So one of the things we’ve talked about is the idea of going back to the beginning and just starting to get to know each other as people and hoping that that can lead to some form of collaboration across cultures. Is collaboration any kind of a way forward in reconciliation?

Stan McKay (11:37): The system as it is for us has little hope, but I see the, the idea of collaboration, just the very idea that that might be possible, is at least holding up an alternative.

Michael Miltenberger (11:52): It seems everybody and their dog is talking about reconciliation and collaboration stuff. What do you think? Do you have any faith in those concepts?

Stan McKay (12:01): There, there’s a lot of mistrust in my village of promises from politicians and promises from, from governments because we haven’t seen much in the way of justice.

Rodney Burns (12:10): You say your people are nervous about it? So are our people.

Our Community is Afraid of Change

Merrell-Ann Phare (12:14): And you know, in my experience on all sides, everyone’s afraid of change.

Stan McKay (12:23): In August. We went through in our, in my village, we went through a process of trying to, to administrate policy over our own land and development in our territory, on our small reserve, the community did not vote in favor of, of that governance initiative, which would have meant our leaders in our community could have made decisions about land development and projects without having to go to Ottawa and wait three, four years for a decision. Our community is afraid of change. The Indian act exists in part because of our fear. We, we can’t see change as helping us because at every turn we’ve been marginalized and, and our voice has not been heard.

Michael Miltenberger (13:09): Stan, You’ve been working on this for a while. Do you have any hope?

Stan McKay (13:13): I have hope, but, but it’s a hope that waivers. Every, every morning when I wake up, I wonder what new challenges, what new expressions of racism I would find as I live my day,

Merrell-Ann Phare (13:25): Gary, what do you think we should do?

Garry McLean (13:27): I want our settlers and our people to become more aware of the treaties.

Getting Back to the Spirit of the Treaty

Merrell-Ann Phare (13:32): So you’re saying we have to go right back to the beginning to the start of the relationship, the treaties?

Stan McKay (13:39): What we’re doing is having a conversation about what might in some ways seem impossible because of our history. But it is real because Garry told us earlier that if you came to his family’s home, when he was growing up, you would get the best bed. You would get the best food and you’d be welcomed. The spirit and intent of the treaties was that we have life together in a good way. And I think collaboration for me is really getting back to the spirit of the treaty.

Does the treaty relationship extend that (land) ethic to the rest of Canada, to lands not occupied by non-indigenous folks?

Merrell-Ann Phare (14:06): Garry, you talked about earlier, this idea of being in relationship with the land and the land owning you and looking after the land. And so does the treaty relationship extend that ethic, to the, to the rest of Canada, to lands that are now occupied by non-indigenous folks?

Garry McLean (14:27): All of Canada, we have a 634 First Nations. We cover 2% of the landmass of Canada. And yet it’s confusing when you’re told as a kid by your grandparents that [Speaks Ojibway] meaning we own this land, it also owns us, but we have to look after it. We can look out to the 2%, but whose gonna look after the other 98%?

Michael Miltenberger (14:49): The idea is if we can have an understanding of each other’s values and relationships with the land, that we can look after a hundred percent of it together in a better way.

Indigenous People, Land, & The Reconciliation Table

Merrell-Ann Phare (15:02): So often when we talk about collaboration, we talk about sitting around a table together. What would indigenous people bring to that table? In terms of ideas about land?

Stan McKay (15:12): We have stories. We have teachings. We have ceremonies that are grounding and, and have to do with the land and the water. And as Garry was saying, how we live in relationship. And our calling to live in that relationship and protect what is around us so that life can continue into generations yet unborn.

Merrell-Ann Phare (15:33): So this is going to seem like a dumb question, but I’m just going to state it for the record. Reconciliation isn’t just about learning about each other’s values because both cultures have values towards land, but it’s also about sharing the wealth of the land, the resources of the land. Am I right? And what kind of numbers would we be talking here?

Reconciliation By The Numbers

Reconciliation isn’t just about learning about each other’s values because both cultures have values towards land, but it’s also about sharing the wealth of the land, the resources of the land

Garry McLean (15:54): If Canada were to give 2% of the resources that’s been taken out, just in the South, with the railroad line and the pipe line, I said ‘How much would that be?’ $22 billion, just from those two resources.

Merrell-Ann Phare (16:06): That would dramatically change the poverty situation. Without a doubt.

Garry McLean (16:11): My community signed a treaty in 1871, August 21st. It’s never been implemented. Otherwise we would not be in the shape we’re in.

Rodney Burns (16:19): I think a lot of people don’t disagree with what you just said. Talking to the Reeves, they would like to get involved working with Indigenous people and see what they could do. I think these treaties have to be settled and let’s move ahead. And everybody move ahead.

The Collaborative Leadership Initiative: Changing Perspectives

Stan McKay (16:34): I don’t for a moment, believe it’s going to be easy, but as long as there’s a table where there’s conversation about collaboration, I want to encourage it. I want to encourage people to be a part of it.

Michael Miltenberger (16:45): I suppose that’s what the three you did, right? The Collaborative Leadership Initiative put you together with a bunch of leaders. The three of you sat around a table together, starting small, getting to know each other,

Garry McLean (16:57): Even just to bring a Cree, and Ojibwe and a white person together, to me, that was exciting.

Stan McKay (17:03): The elder Art Solomon used to say ‘The creator doesn’t make any garbage.’ So every person is gifted. That’s, that’s the fundamental piece of reconciliation. That we each have some insight from a good place in our heart. And it’s possible for people who have historically been separated to become friends and share stories. And, and you see things happening that our history has denied as possible.

Garry McLean (17:29): And I say this again, I said before [speaks Ojibway] the three of us, we wouldn’t fight to get it by accident.

Question: Rodney, the process of sitting with Gary and Stan was probably the most unique for you. What was it?

Merrell-Ann Phare (17:36): Rodney the process of sitting with Gary and Stan was probably the most unique for you. What was it? Can you explain, what was it, what was it like – the actual process, of kind of, the three of you doing a mini discussion about reconciliation in each other’s lives and stuff?

Rodney Burns (17:56): I come in with a real naïve… until I met these two fine gentlemen, they’ve really changed a lot of way I think. I was naive in a way that, “Hey, we should be getting rid of these reserves and everybody should have their land.” I was wanting them to be white people, but they don’t want to be white people.

Question: Garry, Stan, how do you feel about Rodney’s changing perspectives?

Michael Miltenberger (18:15): Garry, Stan, how do you feel about Rodney’s changing perspectives?

Stan McKay (18:21): I just want to acknowledge the value of Rodney’s experience and his patience with our rambling conversation. Because his commitment to this process, with his experience, is very, very important. And I think we need to have that balance of conversation as we, as we look into what, what might be possible,

Rodney Burns (18:44): I was kind of apprehensive and I found that I really learned a lot and I’m really happy to have sat with these two gentlemen here. I think we have to try to understand each other better. We have to talk with each other and we have to try and see if we can get along. I think we’ve all opened our minds to a little bit different past and, and I’m really, really been happy that I was asked to sit on this because I think it’s, it’s a very important, long overdue is, is for one thing. And I think we have to try and get this going quicker than it’s than it is now.

Merrell-Ann Phare (19:34): Garry, maybe I’ll give you the last word. What do you want us to think about in terms of reconciliation?

Garry McLean (19:41): Why did we allow the system to separate us?


Merrell-Ann Phare (19:51): Michael and I want to thank Stan McKay, Rodney Burns and our dear friend, Gary McLean for the time they took with us on our podcast today. We’re very sad to share with you that since the taping of this podcast, Garry passed away after a very brief illness. We miss you, Garry. The Porcupine Podcast is produced by Merrell-Ann Phare and Michael Miltenberger. We’d also like to thank our system producer and audio technician, Hannah Gehman and writer, Deborah Bowers. And finally, thanks to you for listening to Porcupine Podcast. We hope you return and please feel free to rate and subscribe. We look forward to seeing you next time.

Listen to the episode here.

Episode 0: Meet the Hosts – Merrell-Ann Phare and Michael Miltenberger

Episode 1: CLI Elders Explain Reconciliation with Stan McKay, Garry McLean, and Rodney Burns

Episode 2: Northern Reality and Reconciliation with Tony Penikett – Part 1

Episode 3: Northern Reality and Reconciliation with Tony Penikett – Part 2

Episode 4: Water and Reconciliation – CWRA Live Taping

Episode 5: The Role of Indigenous Taxation in Reconciliation with Manny Jules

Episode 6: Indigenous Economics and Reconciliation with Andre Le Dressay

Episode 7: Sports and Reconciliation with Patti-Kay Hamilton

Episode 8: Indigenous Law, Consent and Reconciliation with Bruce McIvor

Episode 9: Hip Hop and Reconciliation with Crook the Kid

Episode 10: The Importance of Treaty Land Entitlement with Laren Bill


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