What is Reconciliation?

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015) more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were forced to attend residential schools. This has left Aboriginal people with a legacy of unresolved trauma that is being down passed from one generation to the next. This cumulative trauma has had a profound effect on the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal peoples. Collective efforts between all peoples (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) are necessary to reach the goal of reconciliation. This could take generations.

What is reconciliation? There are many meanings to this term. The  Merriam-Webster dictionary (2018) defines reconciliation as a situation in which “two people or groups of people become friendly again after they have argued” or the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas, or situations agree. Other words used to describe reconciliation are settlement, understanding, resolution, compromise, reunion, ceasefire, appeasement, and bringing together. The TRC used the term reconciliation to bridge understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. This requires us all to look at the history of colonization and recognize the impacts of that history on the social situations that affect Aboriginal peoples today. Reconciliation is more than linguistic and cultural revitalization. It means to go back and pick up what was left at the wayside: Aboriginal knowledge, methods of knowledge transmission, ceremonial practices, philosophies, ways of life and understandings of the world. It means recognizing what was in existence for Aboriginal peoples before they were forced to adopt another way of life. Reconciliation does not only mean the educational system; it has to happen within all systems. That is why there are 94 ‘Calls to Action.’ We cannot look at just one system and expect reconciliation to occur. We must look at all aspects of life.

Much of the attention on reconciliation is directed at the impacts of the residential school system on the Aboriginal way of life. This is a start for the process of reconciliation, but we cannot stop there. It is important to return to an education system that recognizes, celebrates and honors the role that our children play in our families and our societies where all children are held to high expectations and are provided with the skills needed to succeed. The education system needs to recognize Aboriginal systems of knowledge transmission and respectfully represent Aboriginal peoples in that system by celebrating and honouring strengths rather than focusing on negative portrayals of Aboriginal peoples.

Lastly, reconciliation is teaching about history; that is, the attempts to colonize, civilize and assimilate, and sharing the real experience of the the residential schools as opposed to the propaganda provided by the government. This involves recognizing the strengths of residential school survivors and highlighting the survival and resistance tactics they used that allowed them to survive in the residential schools. A good place for your own process of reconciliation is to familiarize yourself with the executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation final report. The final report contains recommendations aimed at broad institutional changes that need to happen in order to achieve reconciliation at the institutional level.

Learning Activities

  1. Take some time to ask classmates, family and friends about what they think reconciliation is. How many know what reconciliation is?

  2. What is your own personal commitment to reconciliation?

Expanding Your Knowledge

  1. Spanish Residential School is one of the closest residential schools to both Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation and Whitefish River (Wiigwaskinaaga) First Nation. It is likely that many of the children from these two First Nations went to this school. The following website contains information about the History of the Spanish Residential School:
    Our History: Inventory of Spanish Residential School Explored
  2. Take some time to watch the reconciliation video available through the following link:
    What is Reconciliation?

    1. How long will it take to change the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada?
    2. What can we do today that will contribute to restore balance to the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples?
  3. Watch the following TED Talk by Starleigh Grass about residential schools:
    Reconciliation and Education – Starleigh Grass


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