> Zed Book Club / Indian in the Cabinet

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai First Nation on Vancouver Island, at a ceremony at the 2019 First Nations Justice Council in Richmond, B.C. Photo: Jonathan Hayward /GettyImages

> Bookshelf

Indian in the Cabinet

In her political memoir, former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould explains the Indigenous values and principles that shaped her life / BY Elizabeth Mitchell / October 7th, 2021


Jody Wilson-Raybould wants to be remembered for her accomplishments as an Indigenous and federal politician, not for the SNC-Lavalin affair that led to her resignation from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, and her new book is a testament to her achievements.

For someone who has been under intense scrutiny since stepping onto the national political stage in 2014, Wilson-Raybould is relaxed, personable and remarkably open in a recent phone call from her home in Vancouver to talk about Indian in the Cabinet: Speaking Truth to Power.

“I’ve always thought about writing of my experiences, but never confirmed the decision until – like all of us being shut in during COVID – having the extra time and being more reflective,” said Raybould, who was the Independent MP for Vancouver Grenville until she decided not to run in the 2021 election.

Where her 2019 book, From Where I Stand: Rebuilding Indigenous Nations for a Stronger Canada, is a compilation of her political speeches, this time around, it’s personal.

“I was very reticent at the beginning to speak about my life, my upbringing and my teachings – you know, the more personal elements of it,” she said. “I wanted to tell my experience in government, but I knew that in order to tell my story, I had to inject that into it.”

She began writing reflections in her journals. Initially, she had no intention of publishing them, but as she wrote, the importance of sharing her story surfaced. “I was taught that we need to speak up and tell our experiences.”

She clearly states her book is a political memoir, not a tell-all about SNC-Lavalin. Rather, it’s a thoughtful, detailed telling of its context within her life, and how her upbringing and the teachings of the Eagle Clan of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples of northern Vancouver Island helped her navigate it.

Before delving into her personal story, Wilson-Raybould sets the stage with a prologue about the days immediately following The Globe and Mail article uncovering allegations of attempted political interference by the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister’s Office, to influence her as minister of justice and attorney general to intervene in an ongoing criminal case against Quebec-based construction company SNC-Lavalin.

Jody Wilson-Raybould

 

With that out of the way, Wilson-Raybould goes back to her beginnings to take the reader on a guided tour of how she made her way from Comox, B.C., on Vancouver Island, to Parliament Hill.

Born in Vancouver in 1971 to Sandra, a non-Indigenous teacher, and Bill Wilson, the hereditary Chief of the Eagle Clan and a First Nations leader, her parents separated when she was young. Her father’s absences due to his advocacy work meant that she and Kory, her older sister, spent quality time with his mother, who also lived in Comox.

“As I wrote, I realized how impacted and close I was to my grandmother, and I began structuring the book around her, teachings.”

Her grandmother Ethel, also known as Pugladee, was a residential school survivor and Clan matriarch who hosted five potlatches – gatherings that are part ceremony, part celebration and part name-giving and gift-giving by the host – in her lifetime. It was at one of these potlatches Wilson-Raybould received her traditional name, Puglaas, meaning “woman born to noble people,” when she was five.

“She had to do these [potlatches] in the background, out of sight, because they were illegal,” Wilson-Raybould explained. “In order to maintain our culture, she did so much behind the scenes.”

“Our culture is matriarchal,” she continued. “The Indian Act – which is still on the books much in the same manner as it was in 1876 – turned our leaderships and ways of being on their heads. We went from a place where everybody in our community had a role to play to having everything determined for us through a patriarchal view.”

From a young age, the importance of responsibility and improving the Indigenous way of life was instilled in Wilson-Raybould. “My sister and I would sometimes be dragged to meetings when we wanted to be out playing with our friends. We were taken and told to sit and listen and learn.”

As a result, the values of inclusion, equality, and achieving justice have always been something Wilson-Raybould held in her heart and head. “That foundation has always carried me through,” she said. “I’m so grateful and proud to be an Indigenous person.”

Having been raised to be a leader, going to law school was a given for the work Wilson-Raybould wanted to do in her community. Her father was the second Indigenous lawyer to graduate from the University of British Columbia’s law school in 1973. Following his lead, she graduated from his alma mater in 1999, alongside her sister Kory and award-wining Five Little Indians writer Michelle Good.

After articling, she became a provincial Crown prosecutor, then moved into First Nations politics as a staff adviser for the British Columbia Treaty Commission in 2003. Nine months later, when she was elected as a commissioner (eventually serving as acting chief commissioner), Wilson-Raybould had no illusions about the difficulties inherent in this new work. Her dad taught her that if she knew what change was needed, she must relentlessly pursue it in a “principled and coherent manner” and find allies while she’s at it. This good counsel helped establish her as a strong leader in her own right outside of being Bill Wilson’s daughter.

In 2009, she was elected councillor of the We Wai Kai, the First Nation at Cape Mudge on Vancouver Island (where she is a member and owns a home) and regional chief for the B.C. Assembly of First Nations (BCAFN). Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin was impressed by a speech she gave at a BCAFN assembly in 2011 and mentioned her to Justin Trudeau, who was looking for new recruits.

In the summer of 2013, after winning the Liberal leadership, Trudeau travelled to the Assembly of First Nations meeting in Whitehorse to personally ask Wilson-Raybould to run as a Liberal candidate in the next federal election. Flattered, she told him she’d think about it.

And then the whirlwind began.

Within months of meeting Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould was being touted as a top candidate. After signing on, she was given her choice of ridings, and decided to run in newly created Vancouver Granville, which she won in the 2015 election. She was then appointed to the highest position ever held by an Indigenous politician in federal politics, minister of justice and attorney general of Canada.

Wilson-Raybould’s writing mirrors her conversational style, which is flowing and informative. Despite her timidness about personal disclosures, these sections of the book are the most engaging. When the writing shifts to the federal government, the narrative is weighed down by procedural explanations. Transcripts of key incidents – including the conversation about SNC between Wilson-Raybould and Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada, Michael Wernick, as well as the three oaths of her swearing-in ceremony requiring her allegiance to the Queen – are included verbatim, so they can speak for themselves. “I was taught that words matter,” Wilson-Raybould said, “and to choose them wisely.”

This teaching was paramount when choosing the book’s title. Like her fellow law-school graduate, Michelle Good, Wilson-Raybould wanted the deep racism in her story on the cover.

“I came to Ottawa with all my lived experience, the values and principles I’ve held my entire life, and being a proud Indigenous person. I believed I was being appointed because of my worldview, because of that experience, because diversity actually matters. I still truly believe that,” she said. “As the years went by, I realized I was seen as an Indian in the true sense of the word, as described in the Indian Act.

“It doesn’t matter what table you sit around, you can still experience marginalization and racialized and gendered terms. I’ve fought my entire life to move away from the Indian Act and being treated as a second-class citizen, and this is what I experienced when I sat around the cabinet table.”

Because Wilson-Raybould was steeped in Indigenous politics, partisanship was a foreign concept. Very quickly she learned that toeing the party line – and achieving and maintaining power – trumped making decisions that best served Canadians.

One of the more challenging aspects of writing the book was gaining a new perspective on the hopefulness she experienced during her initial meetings with Trudeau. “I deeply believed that he would ‘do politics differently,’” she said. “So the question I have for myself is: How was it that I was not able to see the real person when I believed that back then?”

Now at peace with the reality, she understands many were galvanized by the wave of positivity leading up to the 2015 election. Many of those people are still part of the Liberal party.

“I keep in contact with some of those people … so there is that belief that things can be different, that we can operate in a different manner… as human beings and as human beings in a political environment. That still makes me hopeful even though the person that I thought was beating that hope was not who he presented, or who he became.”

The recent discoveries of mass graves at residential schools across the country has heightened awareness of the horrors of colonialism. While Wilson-Raybould acknowledges there are more allies now than ever, for her everything goes back to the communitarian perspective she was raised on, where words were followed with action.

“I’d rather have substance over symbolism in terms of having action address these issues,” she said. “I think that will come, but it will come by Canadians pushing the dial even more, and not necessarily from our political leaders. So yeah, there’s hope.”

What’s next for Wilson-Raybould? While various work offers have come her way, she’s not rushing any decisions. “I’m going to continue to speak up… to advocate, but I’m going to take my time to figure out the best place for me to use my voice.”

 

THE SCROLL

Hilary Mantel, Award-Winning British Author of ‘Wolf Hall’ Trilogy, Dies at 70Wolf Hall, published in 2009, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, released three years later, both won the Booker Prize, an unprecedented win for two books in the same trilogy and making Mantel the first woman to win the award twice.


Prince William “Cannot Forgive” Prince Harry, According to ‘The New Royals’ Author Katie NichollPrince William “just cannot forgive his brother,” according to Katie Nicholl, author of 'The New Royals: Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy and the Future of the Crown.'


Five Finalists Announced for Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for NonfictionThe winner — to be announced on November 2 — will take home the annual $60,000 prize.


Peter Straub, Bestselling American Horror Writer, Dies at 79Friend and co-author Stephen King has said the author's 1979 book, "Ghost Story," is his favourite horror novel.


Rawi Hage, Billy-Ray Belcourt and Sheila Heti Make the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize Long ListThe jury read 138 books to choose 14 titles for the long list, one of which will win the $100,000 prize, one of the richest in Canadian literature


Salman Rushdie, Novelist Who Drew Death Threats, Is Stabbed at New York LectureThe Indian-born novelist who was ordered killed by Iran in 1989 because of his writing, was attacked before giving a talk on artistic freedom.


Raymond Briggs, Creator of Beloved Children’s Tale ‘The Snowman’, Dies at 88First published in 1978, the pencil crayon-illustrated wordless picture book sold more than 5.5 million copies around the world while a television adaption became a Christmas favourite in Britain and was nominated for an Oscar.


Canadian Author Emily St. John Mandel Makes Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Reading ListObama's list includes everything from fiction to books on politics, cultural exploration and basketball.


Canadian Author Rebecca Eckler to Launch RE:books Publishing House Focused on Female Authors and Fun ReadsThe former National Post columnist says her tagline is ‘What’s read is good, and what’s good is read.’”


Brian Thomas Isaac’s “All the Quiet Places” wins $5,000 Indigenous Voices AwardThe B.C. author, a retired bricklayer, drew on his childhood growing up on the Okanagan Indian reserve for his coming-of-age story set in 1956


Canadian-American Author Ruth Ozeki Wins Women’s Book Prize for “The Book of Form and Emptiness”The UK judges said her fourth novel, inspired in part by the Vancouver Public Library, contained "sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy."


The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.


American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history


Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro Among Canadian Authors Recognized in Commemorative Reading List Marking Queen’s Platinum JubileeThe authors are among six Canadian scribes included on the The Big Jubilee Read list.


Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."


New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.


Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.


Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."


European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."


Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.


Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.


Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.


Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro


“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.


Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories


Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel


South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 


Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.


Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events


Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards


Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde


Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 


Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members


Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations


Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


> STAY UP TO DATE

Sign Up for the Weekly Book Club Newsletter