March 9, 2022
Review By Mary Tuti Baker
“How do porcupines hug?” Merrell-Anne Phare asks.
“Carefully,” Michael Miltenberger responds.
This old joke is the disarming beginning to every episode of Porcupine, a podcast hosted by political consultant Michael Miltenberger and lawyer Merrell-Ann Phare. The image of hugging porcupines is an apt metaphor for the prickly process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, and Porcupine puts a human voice to the ways that governments, organizations, and individuals are (and are not) responding to the ninety-four calls to action published in 2015 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Porcupine is a valuable digital resource. In addition to recordings of engaging conversations with a wide range of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who are living reconciliation every day, the website for the podcast, https://porcupinepodcast.ca/, includes transcripts for each episode and extensive show notes about the speakers and projects in which they are involved. Seasons 1 and 2 include a total of twenty interviews with guests ranging from First Nation Elders, members of Parliament and former Provincial Premiers, Indigenous economists, Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientists, lawyers, water managers, health practitioners, a young rapper and a couple of seasoned CBC broadcasters. Episodes address social issues like economic development on Indigenous land, Indigenous and Aboriginal legal rights, environmental protection, health parities and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The hosts have leveraged their extensive experience with Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and community groups to bring this array of guests to the microphone. Phare is legal counsel and advisor to several First Nation and other governments and founding Executive Director of the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources (CIER), a national First Nation charitable environmental organization. Miltenberger spent 20 years as an MLA in the Northwest Territories Legislature and currently provides strategic political advice to Indigenous and Crown governments, NGOs, industry, and the private sector.
Porcupine’s first episode, “CLI Elders Discuss Reconciliation”, sets the tone for the podcast. The episode features three elders that Phare and Miltonberger work with at the Collaborative Leadership Initiative (CLI), which is “an ongoing process that has seen elected leaders join in partnership with CIER, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization and the Winnipeg Metropolitan Region to implement a process that ensures enhanced relationships and good decision-making (CLI website https://www.collaborativeleaders.ca/).” Garry McLean (Lake Manitoba First Nation), Rodney Burns, and Stan Mckay (Ochkwi-Sipi, Fisher River First Nation) are emblematic of what substantive reconciliation looks like on the ground. McLean declares that bringing a Cree, Ojibwe and white person to the same table at CLI is exciting. McKay adds that he believes “it’s possible for people who have historically been separated to become friends and share stories (Porcupine, episode1, 17:03).” Reflecting on McKay’s words and the value of initiatives like CLI, Burns admits to feeling apprehension about reconciliation at first and in the end realizing that “we have to talk with each other and we have to try and see if we can get along (Porcupine, episode1, 18:44).”
Reconciliation is not easy. It is, as Miltenberger says, “very prickly, a tough subject. And when you get a lot of porcupines together, it takes a very careful approach to have anything constructive happen (Porcupine, episode0, 2:35).” Phare and Miltenberger successfully navigate this prickly space of reconciliation with compassion and levity, creating a valuable resource for those interested in the many ways that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians are, as Phare says, overcoming barriers “and actually doing the great big porcupine hug (Porcupine, episode0, 2:46).” In this podcast listeners can indeed witness the ways that porcupine hugs are building the relationships necessary to achieve true and substantive reconciliation.
Phare, Merrell-Anne and Michael Miltenberger. Porcupine. Porcupine Media. podcast. https://porcupinepodcast.ca/