- Moving with and away from Reconciliation
I want to get rid of the Indian problem […] Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian Question and no Indian Department.-Duncan Campbell Scott, Deputy Superintendent of Indian Affairs, 1920
Reconciliation to me is about not having to say sorry a second time.-Cindy Blackstock, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, 2015
Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) held hearings across Canada, providing opportunities for Indian residential school survivors, their families, and others to share their stories of the Indian Residential School System and its impacts on their lives. For many, the TRC began in 2008 with a great sense of purpose, and importance was placed throughout on allowing people a space to tell their stories and to have those stories heard and received in dignity.
For the TRC, "reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country" (Final Report 6). It is not the reestablishment of a previous positive relationship, as might be thought of in other contexts. The testimonies at the TRC hearings were intended to create, in a sense, a set of shared memories to draw from in that relationship. But will the stories that bear witness to the residential school experience be enough to move non-Indigenous people in Canada beyond the racist structures of 150-plus years of colonization to a new future? Can shared stories do that? If the memories on one side are of generations of lived, residential school experiences in one's family while the memory on the other side is that of an afternoon spent listening [End Page 653] to other people telling stories at a TRC gathering,1 are those really the collective memories that create communities? In the same way, for life narrative scholars, does an afternoon reading a life narrative from another culture change our sense of community? Does reading a life narrative change us? Does it change our communities and our nations? In the end, are we moved to action by life narratives?
The TRC process has clearly been a complex one, with the terms themselves particularly charged. For example, Dakota scholar Kim TallBear rejects the concept of reconciliation, noting that reconciliation implies equal complicity in colonization. In a talk at the 2016 Indigenous Feminism Workshop at the University of Alberta, she paraphrased from Dakota scholar Elizabeth Cook Lynn, stating: "I don't want reconciliation. I want restitution of land." Like Cook Lynn and TallBear, Mohawk scholar Taiaiake Alfred is also critical of what he refers to as the "pacifying discourse of reconciliation":
Without massive restitution made to Indigenous peoples, collectively and as individuals, including land, transfers of federal and provincial funds, and other forms of compensation for past harms and continuing injustices committed against the land and Indigenous peoples, reconciliation will permanently absolve colonial injustices and is itself a further injustice.(182)
Reconciliation is thus not a term that moves everyone to embrace the TRC project, as they see it as a "virtual minefield of assimilative dangers" that appeals to "a settler-colonial state hoping to put its genocidal past behind it" (Robinson and Martin 6).
Gitxan scholar Cindy Blackstock has taken up the term reconciliation, but uses it to turn attention to the ongoing issues with First Nations children in Canada that still need addressing. In February 2007, "as Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society (FNCARES), [Blackstock] brought a landmark discrimination case to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to challenge the federal government's chronic underfunding of children's services on First Nations reserves and for First Nations children in the Yukon" ("Reconciliation"). In powerful speeches and interviews about the situation of First Nations children in Canada today, she urges the Canadian government to address current conditions, and points out, "Reconciliation to me is about not having to say sorry a second time" ("Reconciliation").
Yet others think through the TRC process differently. In the same panel at the 2016 Indigenous Feminism Workshop, Cree-Métis scholar Shalene Jobin...