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What Reconciliation Is and What It Is Not

What Reconciliation Is and What It Is Not

For a very long time, mainstream Canadians were unaware of the horrors and conditions that 150,000 Indigenous children endured in the Indian residential schools over a period of more than 100 years. For many Canadians, the first inkling of the atrocities the children suffered was when then Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the Statement of Apology on behalf of Canadians for the Indian residential school system in 2008.

St-Michael's-Indian-residential-schoolThe grassroots Idle No More movement raised awareness of Indigenous issues in 2012 with round dances, rallies, teach-ins, and social media. The movement gained significant media attention which brought it onto the radar of mainstream Canada.

The next hit of awareness was in 2015 with the publication of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report and 94 calls to action. The calls to action, in particular, awoke in many individuals, organizations, and governments a realization that they had not just a role to play but a moral responsibility to make amends for the past. 

It’s now five years since the TRC report and reconciliation is a familiar term to most of us. But, there’s still confusion over what it means and who is responsible, which could lead to reconciliation become nothing more than a platitude.

The TRC definition of reconciliation:

. . . Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behaviour. [1]

To flesh out what reconciliation is and is not, here’s a list of considerations that may contribute to understanding reconciliation.

Reconciliation is:

  • Critical
  • Complex
  • Multifaceted
  • Continuous
  • A process
  • About working towards solidarity as a society and country
  • The responsibility of every Canadian
  • Acknowledging the past and ensuring that history never repeats
  • Learning about Indigenous history
    • Recognizing the inter-generational impacts of colonization, attempts at assimilation, and cultural genocide
    • Recognizing the critical roles, Indigenous Peoples have held in the creation of Canada, their contributions to world wars to protect Canada
  • Taking responsibility as a person, a parent, an employee, an employer to:
    • Never utter, accept, or ignore a racist comment
    • Never utter, accept, or ignore a statement that includes a stereotype about Indigenous Peoples
  • Respect for:
  • Recognition and support of the deep connections Indigenous Peoples have to the land.
  • Healing for all Canadians
  • Good people doing good things
  • Never giving up despite setbacks
  • Humility
  • An opportunity to move forward
  • A commitment to taking a role and assuming responsibility in working towards a better future for every Canadian

Reconciliation is not:

  • A trend
  • A single gesture, action, or statement
  • A box to be ticked
  • About blame
  • About guilt
  • About the loss of rights for non-Indigenous Canadians
  • Someone else’s responsibility

Listen to the children in this short video after they learn about Indian residential schools. There is sadness, shock, pain, and awareness but ultimately there is hope and a desire for change.

I believe Canada has moved to a point at which we no longer ask “whether reconciliation is possible” but “how is reconciliation possible.” And from that position, increasingly non-Indigenous Canadians are asking “what can I do?”

This blog post is also posted on Ontario Nature Blog.

Here's a related article that delves into the controversy around statues of historical figures: Let's Not Make Reconciliation a Political Football.

And here's an interesting reconciliation action in Australia:

Check out this CBC article

[1] Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015, p. 6

* An excerpt from 21 Things™ You May Not Know About The Indian Act by Bob Joseph

Featured photo: Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, Flickr

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