Truth and Reconciliation



the Canadian Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential schools published its final report in December 2015 as we now face the task of implementing the reports calls for action I think it's critical that we think about what reconciliation actually means and I say this because the word is often overused frankly Aboriginal people in Canada are a little bit skeptical about reconciliation and I think they have really good reasons for feeling that way Aboriginal people in Canada are concerned that for non-aboriginal people reconciliation is thought of as kind of a single event sort of a point in time a speech and apology the release of a report after which things are supposed to get better and the harms of the past fade away their concerns about this are echoed in the literature on transitional justice transitional justice is things like reconciliation commissions and public inquiries and scholars in this field similarly draw our attention to how reconciliation talk can overemphasize putting and leaving the mistakes of the past in the past if reconciliation is going to happen in this country it has to happen on multiple levels it has to take place at the level of government at the level of communities schools individuals so this means that no one else is going to do it for us it also means that reconciliation cannot be used in a way that silences Aboriginal people that silences those Aboriginal people who will continue to need to draw attention to structural inequality to poverty to racism in the present and to our country's constitutional and legal obligations to First Peoples this doesn't mean that we are necessarily lodged in the past however it does mean though that we cannot forget the past as we work towards change and improvement in the present we need to think about reconciliation as a process that takes place between parties and relationships this brings me to treaties because treaties are a means of reconciliation if they are negotiated and implemented in a spirit of mutual coexistence treaties are a complex legal mechanism they bind the signatories in a relationship of mutual respect and mutual obligation many people might think of treaties especially the historic treaties as dusty artifacts that are no longer relevant nothing however could be farther from the truth historic treaties as well as treaties that are made in the present day have an ongoing and critically important relevance in fact Canada is so much better off than many other places because we have this existing mechanism but treaties have to be fulfilled they have to be implemented and they need to be thought of as charters for how we coexist without domination without assimilation and without expecting or requiring Aboriginal people to pay the price for non Aboriginal Canada's prosperity some years ago I was sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck bouncing along a dusty unpaved road that is typical of under-resourced Aboriginal communities in Canada and I was listening to my driver talk about treaties and reconciliation his first nation had just signed a treaty with the federal provincial governments of Canada and BC and he was complaining that the Canadian government not to mention the Canadian public thinks of treatise as to much like a divorce and I was really struck by that because when we think about a divorce what do we think about we think about perhaps separation on the basis of irreconcilable differences we think about splitting assets and we also think about divorced parties generally not having a lot to do with each other and as he said a treaty should be more like a marriage and then connecting it to our broader conversation about reconciliation he said to me he said reconciliation is a process and we are just not there yet so I think it's important that we do not think about reconciliation as closure or as about the end of something but rather really as about the beginning of a relationship that's going to take considerable work reconciliation is a process and as a process in a relationship we need to expect that it's going to have ups and downs that there's going to be many challenges often conflict and certainly in terms of resources some structural adjustments this country needs to substantive ly change its relationship with First Nations matey in Inuit people reconciliation as a process and a relationship provides us the means to discover for the first time a national identity of which we can truly be proud and we all Canadians need to rise to the challenge that reconciliation presents to us you

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