What is Reconciliation to You?
I once heard someone say that racism isn't just a dark chapter in Canadian history, it's the entire plotline. As a writer, that really stuck with me. It also worked its way into the way that I look at and approach Reconciliation.
I first want to preface this writing with the statement that I'm not a pessimist, nor am I a believer in holding grudges. But I want to make it clear that, while I'm proud of the advances we've already made because we really have come so far, I also find myself sad that the "Canada" I work for isn't the one I'll see in my lifetime. Still, I wake up every day determined to do my work and be a good ancestor because the work that I do is meant for my grandchildren or my great-grandchildren. And that's the reality with Reconciliation, isn't it?
We fought long and hard for an apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008, which would mark the beginning of what we thought was our Reconciliation journey with "Canada." After all, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up that same year so the government must have been taking things seriously, right? Unfortunately, about a year later our very same Prime Minister attended the international G20 Summit in Pittsburgh and made the bold denial that "Canada" has no history of colonialism, so we were back to square one with the lies and deceit. Here's what I'm getting at: despite what the Canadian government wants us to believe, Reconciliation isn't about acknowledging the racist past and closing the chapter so we can all forget and move on, especially when their acknowledgement and apologies are only to make Indigenous Peoples stop talking about colonial atrocities in the first place.
In order to have Reconciliation, every single individual on this Land has a process to go through. It's about acknowledging that colonization and racism isn't just a "dark chapter" in Canadian history, but rather "Canada's" entire storyline up to the present and its current trajectory into the future. At present, the Canadian government has refused to legislate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and only 14 of the 94 Calls to Action have been implemented. As a reminder, Justin Trudeau's 2015 campaign platform was that he would implement all 94 Calls to Action and that he would implement UNDRIP, among many many other Indigenous-focused campaign promises. He then secured unprecedented Indigenous voter turnout and turned his back on us, literally. He went the opposite way of his campaign promises.
Acknowledging "Canada's" past is important, and the education for Settlers needs to be improved for Reconciliation to take place. There isn't any reason or way to deny that. However, the focus on past harms and the consistent painting of "Canada" as a post-colonial state delegitimizes the systemic colonial violence that continues to harm Indigenous Peoples in the present and distracts us from "Canada's" current colonization tactics - and believe me, the list is endless. As long as the governments of "Canada" continue to play these manipulation games with Indigenous Peoples, Reconciliation with those governments won't be possible. That's where you come in!
As I said, every single individual on this Land has a process to go through in decolonizing and reconciling. As the governments have doubled down on their colonial tactics with state-funded police violence against Land and Water Defenders, I've seen an unprecedented amount of Setters coming to stand with us and announcing that this isn't okay. It feels incredible to finally be heard.
I used to think that Reconciliation would only work when we got the governments to hear us, but just check in on the violence in Wet'suwet'en or at the Fairy Creek blockades and they've made their stance loud and clear. By now, I understand that Reconciliation won't involve the State. It's a personal journey that we all individually work on as a unit. It requires a lot of truth and pain, and there isn't an easy way to do it that allows everyone or anyone to reconcile without feeling that pain. That's why "Canada's" fake apologies with no action don't work - they contain no heavy lifting. We have to bring the pain and trauma into the light and expose the truth that this country has tried to shield its colonial-settler citizens from. It then becomes Settler-Allies' jobs to acknowledge the weight that Indigenous Peoples have been carrying, alone, for hundreds of years, and to take some of that weight regardless of how uncomfortable it is to share.
There will, of course, be people who refuse to carry any weight because they don't believe they should have to take part in Reconciliation for what their ancestors did. But to them I say: just as our ancestors fought to keep our cultures and languages alive with us in mind, your ancestors fought to destroy them with you in mind. It was never your fault, but you were always meant to be the beneficiary of their actions. To know and do nothing is not a neutral act; it's colonialism in action.
So as we move through these tough times where Reconciliation has been institutionalized, co-opted and watered down by large entities who "apologize" but don't do the heavy lifting or dismantle their colonial systems, remember that these systems and their foundations have been in place for hundreds of years. Multiple successive generations have been taught that this is the right way to live and to treat Indigenous Peoples. The change is slow because none of this was just a dark chapter in Canadian history. It remains ongoing in education systems and at the highest levels of government. To expect a top-down Reconciliation approach will only let us down.
Instead, Reconciliation lies with the self. It lies with the ones we know and the ones we love and interact with. It lies with educating people and accepting this amazing influx of allyship from Settlers who are learning about our shared history for the first time. It lies in truth, shared pain, and action.
And as the Former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Senator Murray Sinclair, said, "Every person in Canada — every citizen, every immigrant, every refugee, and every visitor — is responsible for Reconciliation."