Getting to Reconciliation: why tension and discomfort is a step forward.
Last week I attended the second Building Reconciliation Forum. This annual two-day gathering examines the role of post-secondary in implementing the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was there to listen and to learn.
The Forum was an eye-opening and heart-wrenching experience, with speaker after speaker outlining the impacts of Canada’s colonial and genocidal treatment of Indigenous Peoples. These testimonies were in both first and third person, and they were always from the heart. I am grateful and appreciative to have been there and humbled by the courage of the survivors who shared their stores.
Truth be told, I am just starting to understand the extent to which the trauma of residential schools permeates so much of present day Indigenous lives. In the words of University of Alberta Deputy Provost Wendy Rodgers, “awareness of residential schools and the impact of colonization is less an epiphany and more of a quiet awakening”.
Simply put, we are on a journey together and can’t independently get to solutions, let alone reconciliation.
What was also an eye-opener for me was the consistency with which the pathway to reconciliation was identified as a two-way street. This being an academic conference, there were many definitions of reconciliation put forward, but all agreed that authentic relationships will be at the heart of reconciliation. Simply put, we are on a journey together and can’t independently get to solutions, let alone reconciliation.
A key challenge therefore is to not rush into solutions, but to live with the tension that resetting relationships will require everyone — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — to change, and to change together. Change happens in concert and takes time; perhaps more time than we’d like. Even if we all agree that the work is urgent, we can’t necessarily accelerate it. These tensions will create discomfort, and increasing our discomfort might be an indicator that we are making progress. It’s hard work that will only get harder.
So what does this mean for RECODE? Well, the short answer is that we don’t quite know yet.
There are a myriad of activities, programs and platforms we could support; the following is just some of what was mentioned at the Forum: capacity building, supporting access and retention for Indigenous students, increasing the number of Indigenous people in leadership positions, recognizing and valuing different ways of knowing within the academy, creating Indigenous friendly spaces at our higher education institutions, mandating curriculum on Indigenous history and language teaching, etc.
Photo source: Gary Yokoyama, The Hamilton Spectator – Indigenous Studies program outdoor meeting space at McMaster University
It’s encouraging to see positive steps towards change, like Lakehead University’s naming of a Truth and Reconciliation Chair—the first in Canada; Memorial University of Newfoundland’s endorsement of new PhD pathway to encourage Indigenous student participation in graduate programs; and the opening of new Indigenous spaces at Alberta College of Art + Design, Mount Allison University and McMaster University.
True reconciliation is a meeting of minds, happens over time, is incremental, and recognizes both guilt and pain. From this perspective, each of the aforementioned activities are important and needed, but they also need to be recognized as steps on a path to a much bigger and shared vision of relationships based on humility, respect and mutual understanding.