With respect to the truth and reconciliation process underway in Canada, the question has been asked, “If there was a crime committed, who is the criminal?” What do you say to that?

Well, these are questions, I think, that have been asked for a long, long time. One of the major criticisms of the TRC’s process was that there wouldn’t be any criminal charges, no matter what the findings were. There were people who did the molestations coming forth and are in the TRC’s documents who came forward and told their stories as well. There were perpetrators of sexual violence that showed up at national gatherings. And these people are still in the community today and so we can look, we can zoom in and look at individuals who perpetrated violence against our people or we can zoom out and take a look at how the Canadian government has been complicit. You can even go further as some do and look at Canadian citizens as being complicit in that violence as well.

For the young people, the mothers, the single mothers occupying INAC offices across the country now…I don’t hear clamours talking about justice for residential school survivors, per se. I hear about suicides of youth, and decades if not centuries of second class status for Indigenous people across Canada, across Turtle Island. Who do you suggest those people occupying the Indigenous And Northern Affairs Canada offices would say are the criminals and what are the charges they would lay?

That is a juicy question. I would think the criminal would be the Canadian state, and its government. I think the charge we would look at is genocide. We would look at the definition of genocide and see that you can make a real strong case that what happened here in Canada is genocide and what is currently happening in our community is the fallout from that genocide. And so I know the TRC was very clear in naming what happened here in Canada as cultural genocide…but Justice Murray Sinclair was also very clear that they had to name it that, but he was on the side of just flat out genocide, full stop. So I imagine that’s what the crime would be.

You will be in Vancouver for Voices of Elders on Friday. The federal government has been involved in the truth and reconciliation process, funding it. How do you feel about this conversation when we compare it to truth and reconciliation processes in other countries like South Africa? Do you think that this process has gone enough of a distance to deal with reconciliation and what would follow?

Ryan: I don’t know…I think in terms of where we are on this journey…I think we really haven’t taken the first step yet. I think, to use an analogy, there’s a whole bunch of people standing outside the concert hall in nervous anticipation of what’s going to happen in the concert but no one is willing to walk through the door yet, to go in and watch the concert yet. There is a whole bunch of nervous energy around what might be happening. We’re tip-toeing around the issues and I think you’re right to bring up restitution and you’re right to point a light at what might it look like if land is returned to Indigenous people, what might it look like if we start to look at the redistribution of wealth here in Canada for indigenous communities.

What might it look like?

If the treaty promises that were made upon Confederation are actually lived up to…This is our burden now, to sit down and reimagine what this country might look like. You know, in terms of the process, I’m well aware of the fact because I dedicated the entire season of my podcast to reconciliation. I’m well aware of the fact that we have a long way to go in this country. The racism, the roots of colonialism, it runs so deep in this country that I am really starting to believe in what Justice Murray Sinclair said: that for as long as this project has been ongoing, it is going to take as least that much time to come out of it.

Lee Maracle talks about restitution for the hurt, so she is very specific and she is one of the speakers that will be at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver for Friday night’s Voices of Elders. You’ll be co-hosting with Lisa Charleyboy from APTN, CBC and Urban Native Girl. What will you be looking forward to in terms of the Friday night program? Are there particular ways you see the conversation going that you’re excited about?

I think the really exciting thing is that you’re actually leading the conversation and creating the space for the dialogue to happen and so I have no idea of what’s going to happen with the line up that we have. You know we’re all at different stages of our healing, we all have different understandings of what this journey might mean going forward and so I think that people will really experience a diverse set of ideas.

We’ve got the benefit of being able to listen to Chief Joseph and Lee Maracle and others to tell us where they’ve been so that we’ve don’t have to make those mistakes now. It’s really an exciting lineup and I can’t wait to be a small part of the conversation. I’ve written some comedy for the evening on Friday, we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to have some heavy moments in the conversation I’m sure and we’ll make sure we make all the stops in between. I hope that this is what reconciliation looks like in the future for other cities. It’s no surprise that Vancouver is leading the way.

And what I love about this is that it’s actually not in the [Aboriginal] Friendship Centre; it’s in the whitest space possible [Queen Elizabeth Theatre] and Indigenous voices will be raised there so that will be a beautiful thing.

That theatre, that people’s palace that you’re talking about, is the centre of power. It’s not Rogers’ Arena but it is the Queen Elizabeth theatre: a beautiful facility, it’s a public, unionized facility that as you say many marginalized community members have never been to. And there are free tickets to community members at Carnegie, at the Ray Cam, at the Vancouver Aboriginal Community Policing Centre, at the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, and at UNYA for Youth.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tickets for the Voices of Elders event can still be purchased here.