A 'conversation we have to have': Northerners give reconciliation advice in new podcast

·4 min read

Two people with connections to the North are launching a podcast about everyday acts of reconciliation.

Former N.W.T. MLA Michael Miltenberger and lawyer Merrell-Ann Phare are the co-hosts of the Porcupine podcast — a show that explores what reconciliation means for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

"This is a conversation that we have to have the courage to have," Phare told CBC News. "Even if it means asking awkward questions."

Hence the name of the podcast.

"There's this old joke that goes, 'How did two porcupines hug? Carefully.' And such is the story of reconciliation, at least so far," Phare quips on the podcast's first episode.

For Miltenberger, this show is personal.

Miltenberger, who is Métis, tells the podcast that for the first 11 years of his life, his family was "on the run" from the reaches of the church and the government, after his father left the priesthood to marry his mother.

There was always a fight against big institutions to do the right thing. - Michael Miltenberger, former N.W.T. MLA

He also spent roughly eight years in both residential school and day school.

"My whole life has been a battle between family against the government and against the church," Miltenberger said.

"Everywhere I've been in my life, that same theme was there, even in the N.W.T.

"There was always a fight against big institutions to do the right thing."

That concept came up many times in his role as a member of the N.W.T. legislature, Miltenberger said. He describes this podcast as a "natural next step."

"Being in the public arena, that's where we deal with difficult issues," Miltenberger said.

"I looked at [the podcast] with interest, because when you get past the … getting to know each other, everyone wants to go to the same place of a healthy country."

Reconciliation 'everybody's responsibility': Phare

It wasn't clear to Phare at first, she said, whether she should venture into this conversation as a non-Indigenous person.

But now she believes it's one that everyone, regardless of their origin, needs to be brave enough to have.

"It's also my country and my future and the future of people I love, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous people," she told the podcast.

"I just think [reconciliation] is everybody's responsibility, regardless of who you are."

Miltenberger and Phare met for the first time in 2005 at a dinner party in Ottawa. After that dinner, Miltenberger, the N.W.T. 's environment minister at the time, asked Phare to become the chief negotiator for a series of transboundary water agreements between the N.W.T., Alberta and British Columbia.

Miltenberger left politics shortly after, but the two stayed in touch — and started recording the podcast last year. They both live and work in different parts of Canada — Miltenberger at his home in Fort Smith, N.W.T., and Phare in Winnipeg.

Both Miltenberger and Phare said they're hoping to bring Canadians from across the country, and from different walks of life, on the podcast to share their perspectives on what reconciliation means to them, instead of just focusing on one region of the country.

"We're all treaty people, and we're all Canadians," Miltenberger said.

10 episodes launched for Season 1

The duo released their first 10 episodes earlier this month.

They talk to a wide variety of guests, including former Yukon premier Tony Penikett, who dives into the government-to-government relationship, and Fort Smith rapper Crook the Kid, who talks about reconciliation in the world of hip hop.

But it's the episode with Patti-Kay Hamilton, a former CBC North broadcaster based in Fort Smith, about reconciliation in sports, that Miltenberger reflects on with pride.

"[Hamilton] lists all the wonderful things in sports, and how sports brings people together," Miltenberger said. "She's very well-spoken, very eloquent."

Despite having just launched the first season of their podcast, the duo is already booking guests for Season 2. They hope to launch it within the next six months.

Phare said there's a long list of people they want to speak with.

From the North, Miltenberger said they already have an interview booked with Steven Nitah, lead negotiator for Łutsel K'e Dene First Nation on the creation of Thaidene Nëné.

As for the next season, Phare teased that they want to speak to new Canadians, musicians, artists and comedians.

"Every life has a potential angle on what I could do [for reconciliation]," Phare said.