Book Review: “Truth Telling” by Michelle Good

The Sobering Truth

Zachary Houle
5 min readApr 19, 2023
“Truth Telling” Book Cover

It turns out that I might have been wrong. This is the conclusion that I’ve reached after reading Truth Telling, a work by an Indigenous author of Canada named Michelle Good (Five Little Indians). This is a collection of seven essays ranging from issues such as residential schools to missing and murdered Indigenous women to land claims. Reading this book, I realized that I might have taken the wrong approach some 20 years ago when I was building a website on Canadian history for high-school students. One of the units I was tasked with researching and writing had to do with what we were then calling Aboriginals and the various treaties that Canada had entered with Indigenous Peoples. I felt that I did good work, and it had been vetted by a history professor at a university — so I was under the impression that my writing was accurate. However, looking back now, I realize that I might have relied too heavily on the voice of government documents rather than the Peoples who were affected by them. I shouldn’t beat myself up — a lot has changed in terms of how non-Indigenous people such as myself deal with Indigenous Peoples. I was also young and green when I did the work. I can’t go back and check things as the website has long since vanished, along with all of my notes. However, I wonder if I contributed to continuing a Canadian myth about how Indigenous Peoples were treated. Yes, my website touched upon residential schools and their legacy, and recall noting in my writing the various physical and sexual abuse that students endured. However, I don’t think I pushed forward the notion that the placement of Indigenous youths in these schools was a form of genocide. For that, I might have been wrong. Or I could have done more. I’m sorry, if so.

If anything, you can tell that this book will get descendants of white colonial settlers a lot to think about. I certainly can’t stop thinking about it. Essentially, the whole point of the book is to implore Canadians that the age of the apology of abuses done to Indigenous Peoples from governments and church leaders is over — and that it’s time for concrete action when it comes to reconciliation. No more apologies. No more land acknowledgments. It’s time to do something real. This means that people like me will have to give up some power and control over land, for instance, to Indigenous communities. Good is not prescriptive in what she feels should be done, but notes time and time again in this thoughtful treatise that the odds are perpetually stacked against the Indigenous person in Canadian society. After all, the Supreme Court of Canada — where many land claim disputes end up — is not going to rule against its own government, as Good — who is also a lawyer — argues. This book continuously pushes forward the notion that Canadian governments at all levels need to fundamentally change how they view Indigenous People and stop pursuing a course that — at least implicitly — seeks to destroy and annihilate such Peoples. As Good notes, abuses against Indigenous Peoples in Canada are not limited to something that was done in the distant past: it’s a problem that continues to this very day, in a period of what the author calls “living memory.”

Of course, given the political nature of Truth Telling, you can’t really criticize the book. Doing so may brand one at best as being insensitive and at worst a racist. Good, and others like her, have good reason to be angry with the treatment of Indigenous Peoples by the government and the police (one only needs to look at the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women by law enforcement agencies for proof of that). However, it should be noted that this is a book that feels more harvested from various sources rather than cultivated as a straightforward essay collection — whether it was or not. There is some repetition that exists throughout the book from essay to essay, suggesting that it could have used a stronger hand in editing. However, I don’t mean to be disrespectful in pointing that out. It just seems that Good has a particularly contentious issue with topics such as the 1969 White Paper of the federal government (formally known as the “Statement of the Government of Canada on Indian Policy, 1969”) that would have removed Indian status from Indigenous Peoples that gets mentioned many times throughout the book. Maybe she has the right to be contentious as the proposed changes would have clearly affected her and those of her descent. Still, parts of Truth Telling feel as though they are treading the same ground over and over — and it’s not clear to what end, especially since Good does not offer suggestions to Canadians as to what they need to do to right the power imbalance that exists between all the parties in question. That’s the major missing piece to this work. It’s one thing to be angry. I’d like to know what people such as I need to do to enact change — if being slightly critical of this work doesn’t disqualify me from being a person who cares about the plight of Indigenous Peoples.

Even though some readers may have other issues with the book (that one is hopeful is not informed by prejudices), this is a crucial text in that it, at least, seems to get the dialogue started — even if that dialogue is infused with righteous fury. At the very least, Truth Telling is a good starting point and it certainly is an eye-opener. It drives home to readers all the injustices and abuses that have been leveled against the Indigenous Peoples of Canada to starve them into giving up their claims to the land or otherwise see these Peoples be terminated wholesale. This is a work that is going to challenge many Canadians — at least, those who are open to reading it — and I felt that I received a bit of an education in reading this work. This is a sobering account. And even I must wonder as I write these words if I still, somehow, might be wrong in how I approach dealing with the thorny issues that plague the Indigenous communities of Canada. This book had me thinking about how I might need to change. That’s as good of a recommendation I can give as any.

Michelle Good’s Truth Telling: Seven Conversations about Indigenous Life in Canada will be published by HarperCollins Publishers on May 30, 2023.

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Zachary Houle

Book critic by night, technical writer by day. Follow me on Twitter @zachary_houle.