Note: This essay was written for an English First People’s Assignment, thank you.

Reconciliation is an interesting topic.

It’s also an incredibly complicated one.

For any of you in the audience who aren’t Canadian, Truth and Reconciliation is an ongoing effort by the Government of Canada, and to varying degrees Canadian citizens, to make amends for the horrors enacted upon the First Peoples of Canada during colonization and the Residential School system. Its effectiveness has been… varied, but overall it’s doing the best work it can, considering the circumstances.

That’s all from my white-ass perspective, though, so take it with a heaping pinch of salt.

I will say, though, that given my perspective is from my incredibly white ass, I’d like to think it’s better informed than a lot of other white-ass opinions for a few reasons.

  1. I spend a lot of time looking into the thoughts of minority groups so I can better understand their thoughts and needs, and act better as an ally.
  2. My family’s always had a rather close relationship with many indigenous people, and I’ve grown up hearing their thoughts.
  3. Various subcomponents of the previous item.

I think that, from my experience at least, BC seems to have a rather unique relationship with its indigenous population. We’re the only province to be composed primarily of unceded land, rather than territory that was stolen legally through documents. This goes back to early Canadian history. While the rest of the English territories overtook the land the indigenous peoples lived on, the early settlers in British Columbia took an approach more akin to the first French fort on the land, settling in places not already occupied and doing trade with the indigenous population.1 At least, until eastern Canada decided they didn’t like this approach and forced the people living in BC to start acting more like “proper” settlers. British Columbia would later have the third highest count of Residential Schools in the country, with the only higher counts being found in the prairies. BC is also home to the first nation to regain self-governance, the Shíshálh nation. And even in the modern day, though this could just be a byproduct of my slightly countercultural upbringing, indigenous stories are well-known by many in BC. Hell, I could tell you the story of how the Raven stole the Sun before I could tell you that I was Canadian. It’s not like they’ve been relegated to land acknowledgements like it feels like they have been in some other places in Canada. This could all, of course, be me buying into colonial narratives, but considering my sources for the ‘positives’ are all from indigenous writings I’ve read over the years I’d like to think that they’re at least fairly accurate.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: in Canada the natives got fucked. From the spread of terrible disease in the early days wiping out large portions of the population to terrible land agreements to the entire residential school system (something I do not have time to get into, but if you don’t know what it is, Wikipedia is always a good place to start.) But tl;dr: about 100 years of “schools” that were centres for physical and sexual abuse and had the goal of “taking the Indian out of the child”. These schools are now recognized as a form of cultural genocide.

So obviously we as a country need to make some form of amends, right? After all, we stole their land, attempted (and largely succeeded in) erasing their languages, suppressing their culture, and a billion other things. Though in our defence we did introduce them to poutine so… it’s not only bad things?

The formal process of this in Canada started in 2008 with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (or TRC,) an organization with the purpose of recognizing the impacts of the Residential School system on those who survived it and their families, the history of the schools, and documenting it all. Its other task was to try to start the process of reconciling with the indigenous populations of Canada, and to try to make amends for what settlers have done to them since the start of colonialism in Canada.

I’m not here to give you a history, though. I’m here to tell you about what reconciliation means to me, and that’s a question I’m not entirely sure the answer to.

Reconciliation is without a doubt an incredibly important process for this country, a country known on the world stage for being kind and courteous, to make its reality more closely resemble how people think of it. But it’s also disingenuous of Canada to act like it only needs to atone for issues in the past. After all, how many communities still don’t have clean drinking water to this day? We haven’t stopped acting as oppressors, we’ve just stopped the blatant genocide. We’ve moved on to more subtle forms, like “starlight tours”2 or all but ignoring the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We’re not at the point where we can genuinely reconcile. We’re as complicit as ever in the oppression and death of our indigenous population, but because these aren’t enforced by law like residential schools are, we can still give ourselves a pat on the back about “doing better”. While reconciliation isn’t something we should delay, it is at present arguably more for the comfort and peace of mind of white people than it is for actually making up for past wrongdoings and improving the living situation of the indigenous people in Canada. After all, an apology is only an apology if you actually stop the behaviour for which you’re apologizing, right? And so far we haven’t stopped.

My mom used to be a documentarian out on the oil pipeline protests, back in the early 2000s. She’s been an activist for about as long as she’s been alive. She had a lot of conversations with the indigenous people who were also protesting there, and learned a lot about their perspectives. There’s one specific example that I wish to discuss here, however. She was talking to someone who was expressing the belief that all the settlers should go back to where they came from, and leave this place to the people it belonged to for millenia before. She then asked about what she should do, considering she’s a Jewish woman3, and the history of antisemitism in Europe. This got her conversation partner to stop for a moment, and think about the “go home everyone” position with a bit more nuance than before. After all, Canada isn’t just a country of British settlers, it’s also one of the most diverse countries in the world, holding both the most racially diverse city on Earth and the single most Asian city outside of Asia. This is a country which, while not built on positions of equality and equity, now continually strives to be a global leader in diversity. Most Canadians feel less attachment to “where they came from” than where they live today. I know that that’s true for me.

This sentiment of telling everyone else to go home isn’t an uncommon one, and I understand why. You want your oppressors to go away and leave you to be who you would be without them, but it’s nowhere near that simple of a problem to solve. I’m not going to pretend I have the answers, though. I’m just generally against one-size-fits-all solutions to problems regarding nationality and population, they usually tend to have some nationalist undertones, and I’m firmly against nationalism in any forms.

I don’t know what needs to happen next, and I’m not going to pretend to. Reconciliation is an ongoing process, and we need to keep doing better with it than we currently are. I always put forth an effort to listen to the current issues that indigenous peoples here face, and I’m an anti-racist, but I can’t claim that I’m a perfect example of a Canadian in the modern day in regards to this issue. I just think that we need to be doing a lot more than we are right now.

And if I got any (or all!) of this wrong, please feel free to contact me (my email is at the bottom of every page,) and tell me how I can do better in the future. My goal is to always be the most correct I can be, and as such I take no issue with being corrected with genuine information.

  1. At least, this is what I remember from various readings I’ve done. I know it wasn’t always like this, and that there were still issues, but from what I’ve read (or at least remember reading) things were a little less… colonial in BC than elsewhere in Canada, at least until people from out east came and demanded an approach more like what they were doing. ↩︎

  2. Though tonally a bit inappropriate, I’d like to share this surprisingly beautifully rendered comic about the starlight tours, done in the style of “countryballs”. ↩︎

  3. No, the answer is not Israel. I’m not touching Zionism with a 10-foot pole. Free Palestine, and we need a solution where nobody is oppressing anybody else. (and no, not by eliminating whoever “anybody else” might be. Genocide, without exception, is bad.↩︎

Training for the Future ->