What Does Reconciliation Look Like For Indigenous Canadians?
Plus, the understated importance of the TV theme song.
When I was in the Yukon last month, I attending a one-on-one jewelry-making workshop with Wild Yukon Furs. To co-founders white Canadian Vanessa Aegisdottir and her Indigenous husband George Bahm, something as simple as a necklace with a small tuft of fur can be an important catalyst for difficult conversations, not to mention provide valuable income to Indigenous trappers, whose practice is at risk.
I interviewed the couple on the origins of their brand and how they conduct their business when out on the trapping line. And while some of our conversation touched on heated topics (say, their use of real animal fur), I shied away from asking the real uncomfortable questions. So I hopped on a call with Vanessa recently to ask her the difficult questions I had avoided in person (which she said she loved because they lead to the “good answers”). The result? An incredibly enlightening conversation, one that I think Canadians need to (and want to) have more often.
And while the full story was published on Forbes, I’m sharing some of the unpublished parts of the interview here, as I think it provides important food for thought in light of the Pope’s apology to Canadian Indigenous peoples last month.
Tell me more about your trapping process, how do you honour the animals?
“What I’ve come to learn, in most indigenous cultures, everything has personhood. The rivers are a ‘who’ not a ‘what.’ These animals have chosen to give themselves, so it’s a gift. To take selfies is in poor taste and disrespectful. You wouldn’t go to your grannies wake and take selfies. It’s remembering that this animal has given its life so we can teach people about this animal. The onus is on us to conduct ourselves as respectfully as possible.” - George Bahm.
“One of the strong beliefs we hold that comes from George’s teachings, is that those animals give themselves, it’s a choice. Are these earrings practical? Are they protecting us from the harsh winters? No, but people have been decorating their bodies since long before contact. This isn’t anything new.” - Vanessa Aegirsdottir.
What would you want to say to people from the anti-fur movement who are critical of your work?
“Have you ever considered there is no good death in nature? The alternative is predation or starvation. In Canada, we’re held to such a high standard of trapping for humanity. We only use quick kill traps.
There’s a certain amount of population management that needs to happen no matter how many parkas we do or don’t make. In the interest of not wasting what needs to be managed, this is another way that we can honour these animals. We do it by handling ourselves on the land with respect, dignity, humility and gentleness. Understanding that we do not rule over the land and creatures, we have the privilege of being there.” - Vanessa Aegirsdottir.
And to those who claim your work is racist?
“As a white person living in Canada, I do hold racist beliefs. I can’t not, I’m a product of a racist system that benefits me before it benefits people of colour. If I can’t identify what my deficiencies are, then nothing will change.
Reconciliation is easy. There’s lots of little things we can do. It doesn’t have to be these large expensive programs that government initiate. Yes that has to happen, but we can also do these small acts. Like finding out what the traditional name of the river we go camping on and using it.” - Vanessa Aegirsdottir.
Why do you think it’s okay for you, as a non-Indigenous person, to run a business built on an Indigenous practice?
“I know 100% that it is completely okay to be doing this for a whole bunch of reasons. Number one, I do everything in partnership with my spouse, George will veto anything and everything. I have my own built-in Indigenous cultural advisor.
Even that aside, the underpinning of this business is the Indigenous community. This is a strategic move I made with knowledge of how difficult it is for trappers to make a profit from their lines. When I’m buying furs, I’m picking the furs that can protect those Indigenous-held trap lines and make them not just sustainable, but profitable. Profit is okay. If we’re business owners we need it to survive, and these trappers need to be protected.
I don’t have a white saviour complex. I rely on them, I need them. It’s not about me being at the top of the totem pole, I can’t do this without them.
One of my favourite teachings that I have acquired from spending time with George is the concept of redistribution of wealth. I don’t want to be successful by myself and I’m not getting there by myself. If I can buy furs exclusively from Indigenous trappers and pay them as much money as possible, there’s lots of room to share that with my suppliers.” - Vanessa Aegirsdottir.
Why is it important for non-Indigenous Canadians to have these difficult conversations?
“One of the things I hear from my husband all the time, is nothing for us without us. If we’re going to make meaningful change, from a white person’s perspective, I need to listen first. And not just stop talking and wait for my turn to say something, but really listening.
I have hard conversations all the time. When I started this store, I had no idea so much of it was going to be about education as it is. I feel like I have a responsibility. I keep coming back to this word inspired, if I can inspire white people to risk a little of their privilege… what are they going to lose?
If you’re clear about your purpose and well-informed, so much good can be done, even if it’s just cracking open someone’s mind a little bit, that’s a giant win. As I’m working with this polarizing material, I’m waiting for these conversations.” - Vanessa Aegirsdottir.
I agree, if we’re not uncomfortable, we’re probably not pushing ourselves enough.
“Growth happens in the hard places. And we have more impact than we think. This is where apathy creeps in with Canadians and reconciliation, they think, ‘I’m just one person, what difference can I make?’ But I’ve already seen the benefits of our business, I’ve seen how it’s impacted people positively. If just one person sees my words and thinks to themselves, ‘that doesn’t seem so hard maybe I can do it too’—mic drop, my work is done.” - Vanessa Aegirsdottir.
If the above essay interested you, here’s the full story. 👇
🏡 That homeless person could be someone’s son.
👮♀️ The dark side of the RCMP.
💉 Let’s stop calling addiction a disease.
“There are innumerable ways to make sense of addiction and many paths to recovery. But the view of addiction as disease fails to capture much of the experience of addiction, and disease language is not necessary to make the point for humane treatment,” Carl Erik Fisher.
🐸 Would you try toad smoke?
🐘 There’s an elephant in the courtroom.
⛺️ The politics of camping in the United States.
👩🍳 The problem with the refugee cookbook.
“The books don’t advocate for specific solutions to the actual problems causing displacement, while using refugees to sell books.” - N.A. Mansour
When that sneaky “skip intro” button pops up two seconds into the theme song of your show, do you click it? This episode of one of my fave podcasts, Still Processing (it’s back!), makes the case for sticking through the song.
“The song is like a vestibule, it’s this place where you get settled, you take off your coat, take off your shoes, you get led to your table,” says host Wesley Morris.
“The song as portal expands an understanding of what nostalgia is and can be,” says poet Hanif Abdurraqib.
“When we skip intro, what we’re denying is the possibility of having this connection with a show that becomes bigger and more meaningful than the show itself,” says Wesley Morris.
In light of this week’s podcast recommendation, I’m contemplating my favourite TV intros.
For me, there’s some theme songs that so perfectly embody the show they’re leading us into, I just have to watch them through to get me in the headspace of that particular show. Like, Succession, Big Little Lies and The White Lotus, or most recently—The Morning Show, which I think is so on point despite it’s lack of visuals.
Then there’s, as Morris and Abdurraqib describe, the theme songs that become so engrained in us that they evoke intense nostalgia for the time when you watched that show. All it takes is a few seconds of them—like the Gilmore Girls’ “where you lead, I will follow,” or “I’ll be there for youuuuuu, when the rain starts to fall” from Friends, or the upbeat tinker at the beginning of Sex And The City’s intro—to transport me to another time.
What makes a TV theme song a bore? When they drag on too long, like sorry Regina Spektor, but I don’t have time for the 3-minute long “You’ve Got Time” that introduces us to every episode of Orange Is The New Black. Equally as bad as the never-ending theme song is the one that doesn’t exist at all, like where is the intro for Euphoria? The show evokes such a strong sense of atmosphere, and blends sound and visuals so brilliantly throughout the series, not having a theme song feels like a missed opportunity.
What theme songs do it for you? I’d love to hear your favorites!
In honour of my recent trip to the Yukon, here are some of my favorite Yukon-owned snacks and sips that kept my tummy warm while up in the “Great White North.”
🍿 Sweet and salty kettle corn.
🍞 A 19th century sourdough.
☕️ Fire-roasted coffee.
🍺 A light pale ale for a refreshing hot tub drink under the Northern Lights.
🍸 Bitters that take cocktails to the next level.
🍵 Soothing teas made with Yukon plants and berries.
🐮 Yukon “Born and Raised” (or what the locals would call “BNR”) jerky.
🌲 Quintessentially Canadian birch syrup.