Why Is Reconciliation Important?

The first socials blog post of Grade 10 has finally arrived! This one’s jumping straight into the heart of it all – connecting big ideas to specific situations, recognizing my goals for this year, and finding meaningful conclusions of the subject at hand. The big ideas explored last year are some that will never leave us through our ever-lasting inquiry process – that’s why they’re called big ideas! Looking into what factors make up a “collective identity” (emergence of ideas, disparities in power, physical environment) and how that changes overtime is still incredibly relevant, but we are hitting closer to home base this year. We’re jumping into Canada’s history to challenge what our present identity really means, what conflicts have shaped this, and by what means we have gotten here. These are all directly relevant to the world around us, and I thoroughly enjoy as well as partake in trying to find the big picture through any series of events.

What is the subject at hand, this series of events I speak of? Reconciliation, and the importance of it. More specifically – where our responsibilities lie as current Canadians, and the differentiation of what Reconciliation means to people in different demographics. This is the branch I chose to go off of for this big main question (why is reconciliation important?) because it is what I am personally the most interested in. One of my more individual goals this semester is to find that spark of passion for any given situation. I learn best when I care about what I’m doing, and though that is not possible I challenge myself to implement something that gets me motivated to do it. Whether that is in the direct curriculum itself, how I express my findings (e.g. raps ?), or just the drive to get it done. Anyways, I am personally very intrigued by looking into how Canada’s identity has shaped itself, and how we continue this process. Comparing the difference in the definition of Reconciliation as well as the knowledge behind it can really speak for where we are at now, at what still needs to be done. What really makes us “move forward”?

Finding Some Answers
Where are we at currently in terms of nationwide reconciliation, and how do definitions of reconciliation differ between demographics? I started my research by examining “Reconciliation Canada,” an Indigenous-led organization whose goal is to educate people as well as create safe spaces for sharing. I will share their mission statement:

“Reconciliation Canada is leading the way in engaging Canadians in dialogue and transformative experiences that revitalize the relationships among Indigenous peoples and all Canadians. Our model for reconciliation engages people in open and honest conversation to understand our diverse histories and experiences. We actively engage multi-faith and multi-cultural communities to explore the meaning of reconciliation. Together, we are charting a New Way Forward.”

This mission statement lays out an ideal plan for how the future of reconciliation should play out. They provide opportunities for multiple programs, workshops, and events in hopes of inspiring positive change across communities in Canada and sparking dialogue that has the potential to revitalize relationships. Their commitment to togetherness in humanity is commendable, as they use the guiding value of ‘Namwayut meaning “We Are All One” as a foundation. Their approach to reconciliation is largely based upon having open and inclusive conversations – something I can whole-heartedly agree on. It took 156 years in total from the very first opening of a residential school to the last closing down of one back in 1996, yet in their mere five years of activity, the commitment to reconciliation Reconciliation Canada have fostered has shown itself through various milestones.

From Vancouver proclaiming a Year of Reconciliation in 2013, residential schools being formally aded to the curriculum in BC,  a 10,000 person Walk for Reconciliation from Gatineau to Ottawa coinciding with the closing of TRC in 2015, and the conduction of over 40 Dialogue Workshops across Canada – steps are definitely being taken in the right direction. Calgary, Campbell River, Cranbrook, Edmonton, Port Alberni, and Toronto have already declared their formal commitment to reconciliation as well. When looking at what they have achieved and what they would like to do, there has been reference to to TRC’s Closing Event in June of 2015 multiple times, which is when the summary of the final landmark report was released and spoken on. Commission chair Justice Murray Sinclair spoke on very many important matters, letting everyone there see that segregation when it comes to reconciliation is exactly what we’re trying to get rid of.

“Those seeking or holding office must understand that reconciliation must be a priority from the highest to the most local levels of government. Our leaders must not fear this onus of reconciliation, the burden is not theirs to bear alone. Rather, reconciliation is a process that involves all parties in this new relationship.”

~ Justice Murray Sinclair

This was a very large take-away from that closing event. Sinclair made it very clear that “Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem, it is a Canadian problem. It involves all of us.” He was not forcing more accountability on anyone’s part, but rather preaching that education is the real key to ending this and that all of us will need to take responsibility as Canadians in order to make this urgent report play itself out as intended. That day was a day of vulnerability when it came to the survivors who bravely shared their stories on stage, and a day of change for everyone involved – and that’s all of us.

When researching how the knowledge of topics like these is shared to different demographics and what reconciliation means to them, a study done in November of 2010 on understanding how attitudes toward reconciliation vary, according to such factors as location, language spoken, and familial experience in Canada was of great interest to me. After splitting up respondents into three groups {those who had been born in Canada and whose parents and grandparents had all been born in Canada (category A); those who had been born outside Canada (category B); and a group comprising those born in Canada but for whom more than one parent/grandparent had been born outside the country (category C)}, Ravi de Costa and Tom Clark followed the same discussion guide when talking to each group, already understanding a bit where they come from based on the category they were in and a previous questionnaire done assessing their basic knowledge. Each discussion followed the same themes:

  1. Is there an obligation to learn about Aboriginality and what should that entail?
  2. How is Aboriginal history understood; for example, as genocide, as misfortune, as survival, or as progress?
  3. Is there acceptance of Aboriginal cultural difference as an enduring fact of Canadian life?

They found Group A to be the more “reticent” of all groups, observing multiple instances of the “why weren’t I told?” syndrome in many of their views. According to de Costa and Clark, they seemed “uncomfortable when the discussion began, and particularly on questions of present responsibilities for the IRS system.” Not surprising, but also a mentality we are striving to shift. Here is a quote from s subject in Group A, Linda, that largely represents the similar patterns in thinking all throughout Group A.

“But also I think Aboriginal cultures have been and still are so isolated from mainstream Canada. Like, I didn’t even know this was going on and I’m sure that there were a lot of people even over that same time period that didn’t know it was happening. The government obviously didn’t tell people, ‘Hey we’re taking this culture and trying to eradicate them.’ Maybe people would have been more up in arms about it, had they known. I don’t know.”

What It All Means
Again, this comes back to why open education on these topics is so important like Sinclair stated. The first step is making sure everyone is well aware of their own country’s history – no one ever said we had to be proud of it or take full responsibility for it. What we have to do as Canadians willing to make sure reconciliation succeeds is to stay a part of it. Whether that is something as direct as getting involved in these Dialogue workshops or volunteering your time at a community event, or it is just making sure that even if no one told you, you still take it upon yourself to be informed on past events. Do not be afraid to talk about this, because it did really happen and there is nothing that can change that. Canada failed to wipe out the Aboriginals, but now we must heal the relationship tarnished by the very attempt to do that.

We cannot pretend this is “not our job.” Everyone who proudly calls Canada their home has now adapted this country’s history as part of their lifestyle. What makes us move forward is the change in dynamics between relationships, something we are undergoing all the time. To end off this blog post on the importance of reconciliation, I will share a quote by Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Reconciliation Canada’s Ambassador.

“Let us find a way to belong to this time and place together. Our future, and the well-being of all our children rests with the kind of relationships we build today.”

~ Chief Dr. Robert Joseph

We are doing this for the betterment of our future, for the hope that one day this relationship will be repaired. We have acknowledged it, apologized for it, and it is now time to take action on it.