Envisioning Reconciliation: The Problematic Terminology

(the word ‘reconciliation’)

Contemporary Non-Stó:lō Indigenous Voices Through Social Media

Belcourt, Christi

Organizer with the Onaman Collective, working towards resurgence of language and land based practices. She describes herself as “a community based artist, environmentalist and advocate for the lands, waters and Indigenous peoples”. In her discussion of reconciliation she almost always brings it back to the land, saying that reconciliation is not possible without the return of land. She places importance on protecting the land and water and her artwork focuses on these themes. She also talks about language learning and the injustices in Canada’s child services.

Source: Belcourt, C. (2016, Nov) The Revolution has Begun/Published by Onaman Collective [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqBXDPzyLm0

“I see the word reconciliation being used to rebrand existing insidious assimilationist policies of the government. Reconciliation is neither comfortable nor convenient, and it shouldn’t be. Reconciliation without land returned and a correction of all that has resulted from our dispossession is not even possible.”(1:20-1:45)
 

Elliot, Alicia

Elliot is a Tuscarora writer and editor who has won a number of awards and recently published her first book, A Mind Spread Out on the Ground. She lives in Brantford, Ontario. Her writing and social media activity brings to light ongoing oppression, and is critical of reconciliation.
 

Source: Elliot, A. [wordsandguitar] (2017, July 2). [Tweet] Retrieved from https://twitter.com/WordsandGuitar/status/881547552251891714

“’Reconciliation’ is a word that's been used so often and so easily I don't feel it has much of its original meaning left.”

Source: Elliot, A. [wordsandguitar] (2017, July 2). [Tweet] Retrieved from https://twitter.com/WordsandGuitar/status/881547795395694592

 

“I wish instead of "reconciliation," which to settlers seems to imply them apologizing and us accepting it, we focused on restoration.”
 

Gabriel, Brandon (Indigneous Artist) Source: Gabriel, B. [BrandonGabriel] (2016, May 4). [Tweet] Retrieved from https://twitter.com/BrandonGabriel/status/728016136642670592

 

“Reconciliation is not just another fashionable catch phrase that absolves people from culpability of systemic genocide.☺”

 

McMahon, Ryan

An Anishinaabe comedian, writer, media creator and influencer, McMahon is a prominent voice on social media. He has done 3 National comedy specials, records regular podcasts, is building an Indigenous media platform called Indian and Cowboy, and building Makoons Media Group. He makes a lot of criticisms of reconciliation as it is understood in the mainstream, and places emphasis on land.

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Source: McMahon, R. [RMComedy] (2018, June 9) [Tweet] Retrieved from https://twitter.com/RMComedy/status/1005502363090718722

 

“Canada doesn’t need to reconcile, they can reject the whole premise. Most in this country are not engaged in this work & they’re too afraid to say so. Decolonization > Reconciliation.”

Talaga, Tanya

Source: Talaga, T. (2019, Jan 8). First let’s talk about basic Indigenous rights, then we’ll get to reconciliation. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2019/01/08/first-lets-talk-about-basic-indigenous-rights-then-well-get-to-reconciliation.html

“Reconciliation is now officially over. To be fair, it was always a slow, meandering, broken-down engine, limping along the track, led by politicians who never quite knew where the train was going. Most Indigenous leaders never use the word “reconciliation” because it is not plausible when First Peoples are still fighting for basic human rights — for water, land, social services, health care and education. The reality of 2019 looks a lot like Canada’s colonial past.” (para. 1-4)

Source: Thomas, R. (2017, June 30). A critical look at Canada 150: Qwul’sih’yah’maht (Robina Thomas) [Interview by S. Lazin]. Retrieved from http://www.martlet.ca/a-critical-look-at-canada-150-qwulsihyahmaht-robina-thomas/
 

“I think for us to move forward, truly in the spirit of reconciliation — if that’s what we want, because … reconciliation, by definition, is the action of making one’s views or beliefs compatible with another, so is this something we’re doing collectively, Indigenous and non-Indigenous — I actually think the non-Indigenous Canadians actually need to do more of this work. I think they need to figure out how they create space in their ways of knowing and being for the Other; they need to figure out what work they need to do. So I think about the calls to action and I think that we must first step backwards before we can go forwards in a good way.” (para. 25)
 

Vowel, Chelsea (Âpihtawikosisân)

Chelsea Vowel is a Métis legal scholar, writer, and teacher. Her work focuses on resurgence, identity and language. In 2016, Vowel published a book compiled of 31 essays entitled “Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Metis, and Inuit Issues in Canada.” In this work Vowel discusses the the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada.

Source: Vowel, C. [apihtawikosisan] (2015, May 31.  [Tweet] Retrieved from https://twitter.com/apihtawikosisan/status/605004849411989505

“#MyReconciliationIncludes replacing the term 'reconciliation' with 'miyo-wîcêhtowin', living together in harmony. A process that is ongoing.”

 

Source: MacDonald, Moira. “Six Indigenous scholars share their views of Canada at 150.” University Affairs. June 7th, 2017. Retrieved from:
https://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/six-indigenous-scholars-share-views-canada-150/

Abstract: This article discusses the 150th year celebration of the founding of the Canadian state. It suggests that Canadians use this celebration as an opportunity to reflection on the nation’s past, both accomplishments and failures. Within this article six prominent Indigenous scholars offer their opinion on what a “reconciled Canada” would entail.
 

Qwul’sih’yah’maht / Robina Thomas

Associate professor, school of social work, and director of Indigenous academic and community engagement, University of Victoria. Coast Salish, from Lyackson First Nation, B.C.

“I don’t think Indigenous people are at a place where we want to talk about a reconciled Canada. By definition, reconciliation is the action of making one’s view or belief compatible with another. What views or beliefs are we trying to reconcile? Who needs to reconcile with whom?
I don’t think we’re even close to beginning to do that. I get concerned that by focusing on reconciliation, we turn away from the crimes of the past and ignore their connections to the present.”

Contemporary Stó:lō Voices Through Recent Interviews

Shane John (Chawathil First Nation) 
 

“The first thing I want to speak to is reconciliation, just the name itself, it needs to have a translation so any time us as a people when you’re identifying something, you need to translate that down to a language where our people will hold it at a higher value because of the meaning coming to us as the nation here within the Stó:lō or Stallo and that, a question within that, because is that national? Or are we going to be looking at it as a tribal level here within different tribes that are within Stó:lō? Or are we looking at a joint input by those people within this territory here?” [2:37-3:19]
 

Brianne Severn

“I don’t know if reconciliation is actually truly possible in the sense that it’s thought of, because you can’t erase everything that's happened, right? You can't just be like ‘oh here you go’ and now it’s fixed and now it’s done. Those scars are going to be there forever, but you don’t want to- Yeah so there’s no fixing it but there’s still some, like, allowing it to exist in a good way, you know?... Reconciliation seems like one of those words where it’s like there’s no, it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow sort of thing that you can’t really ever actually get to, it’s going to always be a process, and it’s never going to truly end I don’t think.” [14:39-15:23]

 

Eddie Gardner (Skwah First Nation) 

“When we go back, when we go back to what our leaders and our elders have always said when they opened up those meetings. We have to take good care of everything that belongs to us. Now that we share this territory. People who are coming here aren’t going away. Because we share this territory, we have to cultivate that cross-cultural understanding that this is now shared responsibility. This not just rights and titles, this is a shared responsibility. That’s what reconciliation really truly means. Because, if we do not do that, then… We have a word in our language, it’s called tómiyeqw. That means seven generations in the past and seven generations in the future. We are always at the center. So, whatever we inherited, you know, from those seven generations we have to remind ourselves how do we need to live the rest of our lives. Because we are only here for a short time. Each generation is here for a short time. How are we going to live our life so that we can honour our ancestors and make sure that seven generations down the road… When we make our decisions, what impact are we going to have seven generations down the road. That’s reconciliation.”
 

Stan Morgan (Matsqui First Nation)  

“I don’t know if reconciliation is actually truly possible in the sense that it’s thought of, because you can’t erase everything that's happened, right? You can't just be like ‘oh here you go’ and now it’s fixed and now it’s done. Those scars are going to be there forever, but you don’t want to- Yeah so there’s no fixing it but there’s still some, like, allowing it to exist in a good way, you know?... Reconciliation seems like one of those words where it’s like there’s no, it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow sort of thing that you can’t really ever actually get to, it’s going to always be a process, and it’s never going to truly end I don’t think.” [14:39-15:23]

 

Brenda Morgan (Matsqui First Nation)

“I don’t know if reconciliation is actually truly possible in the sense that it’s thought of, because you can’t erase everything that's happened, right? You can't just be like ‘oh here you go’ and now it’s fixed and now it’s done. Those scars are going to be there forever, but you don’t want to- Yeah so there’s no fixing it but there’s still some, like, allowing it to exist in a good way, you know?... Reconciliation seems like one of those words where it’s like there’s no, it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow sort of thing that you can’t really ever actually get to, it’s going to always be a process, and it’s never going to truly end I don’t think.” [14:39-15:23]

 

Murray Ned (Sema:th First Nation) 

“Just going back to the word reconciliation and maybe the commitment from Canada to do something about it isn’t really filtering down to all the leaders in the communities and a general understanding. Words can mean a lot... For me reconciliation something bad has occurred and there’s a rationale to try to reconcile that... make it better and make a mends to whomever has been wronged... For me, to go back a hundred and fifty years and try to figure out all the things that should be reconciled over that period would be quite a challenge.”


 

Yvette Jon (Chawathil First Nation)

“That is such a big word for many topics to go through a First Nation view. It’s huge, you can sit down and talk about it through education... looking at the disrespect and I see the disrespect in the curriculum in school districts. Basically they pull out “The Natives had the smallpox,” but that’s it. They’re not saying how healthy the people were here before anybody walked here into this land and that needs to bed said.”

“I’ve been involved with movies... They were coming over towards me and putting dirt on my hand and I said, “What are you doing?” And they said, “Well, we’re just adding a little bit of dirt to your hand.” And I said, “For what? ...The Natives lived near water, they were the cleanest people around. Their sweat lodges were clean, their floors were immaculate for winter and summer.” Even the media looks at them like they’ve been dirty Indians and stuff like that...”

Contemporary Non-Stó:lō Voices Through Recent Interviews

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Matt McGinity (Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre)  

“The term reconciliation, even it’s most idealized form, it suggests the coming together of two divergent parts of objects in such a way that it is a meeting in the middle...both sides, equally distant and both exerting the same amount of effort to come together half way... I can see politically why that’s a favourable term to use, it sounds good, but to suggest that both the Indigenous peoples of Canada and the colonizing peoples of Canada need to do equal parts to mend historic wrongs seems wildly inaccurate... Canada [and] the Crown have a lot more work to do in the reconciliation process... the term reconciliation... brings up this idea of equal effort on all parties involved in reconciliation then I don’t think that’s correct or appropriate.”
 

Mike Goold (Stó:lō Research and Resource Management Centre)  

“It’s a feel good word that seems to get the traction that it needs to at high levels but I’ve heard and I agree with a lot of peoples opinion that just the term itself ‘reconcile’ means to bring back to balance, and when you’re bringing something back to balance you’re assuming at one point that it was in balance. And if things were in balance at one point it was before contact and it’s been out of balance every since. So, how are to you assume that those who are responsible for that imbalance are also the ones that can bring us back into balance again? I don’t think that math really works on that.”