Is reconciliation a peaceful process?
The Mohawk warrior flag flutters over an overpass on Highway 401 after the Mohawks successfully shut the road down as part of a protest near Deseronto, Ontario, on June 29, 2007. Photo by Tom Hanson/CP.
On the international stage, Canada portrays itself as peaceful state; however, the reality is quite different for our Original Nations and Peoples that remain in a colonial grip. As Shawnee and Lenape writer Steven Newcomb observes, “Words have a history. Words from the past have the ability to colonize the present. Words shape and create reality” (Newcomb, 2012). “Reconciliation” is a concept that requires an investigation, given Canada’s ongoing genocidal colonial past and present.
The doctrine of reconciliation is implemented by the Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) Calls to Action. These three mechanisms are assumed to be peaceful, but what actually drives the policy of reconciliation is the intent to overrun our lands and our Nations and assimilate our Peoples into the colonial state. Reconciliation is the assimilation project refurbished through a false facade of peace. Assimilation is genocide.
Reconciliation presupposes that past relations between the parties in conflict are conciliatory. “Re” means to do again and “conciliation” implies there were former peaceful relations. Is this the case? Has Canada ever been in peaceful relations with the Original Nations of Turtle Island? Peaceful coexistence requires one side not to be in domination over the other side. More importantly, peace requires truth.
Nothing substantive has changed for Indigenous Nations and Peoples in this process. We remain colonized in a framework that destroys our national identities by the assimilation of our lands and Treaty into the Canadian state. Reconciliation buttresses the assimilation project with words, policies, and laws, that support the colonial project rather than dismantle it.
The Oxford Dictionary defines reconcile as to “make acquiescent or contentedly submissive to (something disagreeable or unwelcome)”. A synonym for reconciliation in the Oxford Thesaurus is “pacification”. A synonym for “pacify” in the Webster’s New Dictionary and Thesaurus is to “crush.” The meaning of the word reconciliation is clarified. Synonyms for “crush” include subdue, stamp out, vanquish. “Vanquish” means to overrun and quash. Assignments distributed in my criminology class instruct students to substitute any of the synonyms such as “subdue”) in place of reconciliation; the result is instructive.
Reconciliation has its origins in Christian principles and the jurisprudence established in the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) cases on Aboriginal rights and title. As Chief Justice Lamer explained in the Delgamuukw decision, “Aboriginal title is a right to the land itself. That land may be used, subject to the inherent limitations of aboriginal title, for a variety of activities, none of which need be individually protected as aboriginal rights under 35. Those activities are parasitic on the underlying title.” The court explains further that, “that those rights are aimed at the reconciliation [vanquishing] of the prior occupation of North America by distinctive aboriginal societies with the assertion of Crown sovereignty over Canadian territory” (at paragraph 81).
A synonym for a parasite is “freeloading, sponging or blood-sucking”. The image of our title parasitic on the so-called underlying title of the Crown leaves no room for question as to the objectives of the approach. It not only reveals the dehumanization intrinsic in colonial laws, but it also utilizes words to cement its domination;, they are only words however, not the truth.
In the same vein, the TRC’s Final Report perpetuates the notion that the residential school system is “cultural genocide” rather than declaring it a “crime of genocide.” Cultural genocide is not a crime in international law. The final report creates the illusion of a just and fair finding and “reconciliation” is advocated to move forward. The colonial project is not challenged, and instead, calls for the implementation of UNDRIP which entrenches Article 46 and the so-called territorial integrity of the state, and the myth of underlying title of the Crown.
The TRC is open to much more criticism, but a few interesting points deserve special mention. The TRC omits the benefit of genocide to the colonial project. First, the government benefits when Indigenous Peoples acquiesce to “reconciliation” which, it should be emphasized is a direct cause of the residential schools of domination Second, it does not admit that the government overruns and claims our lands, waters, and the resources that we have a responsibility to protect.
The Recognition and Implementation of Rights Framework is under the government’s reconciliation mandate. The framework is the revamped policy of the 1969 White Paper. Its purpose, now as then, is to assimilate our lands, Nations and Treaty into the framework of the Canadian state. Our Treaty protects us from genocide. The reality is that reconciliation is manufactured through individual Indigenous persons and the First Nations’ political organizations who either turn a blind eye or don’t understand the implications of what they agree to and is being implemented right in front of their eyes.
Is reconciliation a peaceful process? Has colonial domination and dehumanization and programs of genocide been authentically dismantled? Has truth triumphed? Dressing genocide with illusions of peace will not change the reality we live with on a daily basis, but attitudes will. The choice is up to this society to set the record straight and call on the government to put an end to genocide and finally be in peace with us. This includes an internal reflection and examination of this society’s complicity in genocide. Self determination according to international law is the answer and ultimately the return of our land and the implementation of the Treaty according to the original spirit and intent will restore peace with our Indigenous Nations and Peoples.
Tamara Starblanket is a Nehiyaw iskwew (Cree woman) from Ahtahkakoop First Nation in Treaty Six. Tamara holds an LLM (master of laws) from the University of Saskatchewan, and an LLB from the University of British Columbia. She is the co-chair of the North American Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus (NAIPC). She is author of Suffer the Little Children: Genocide, Indigenous Nations and the Canadian State. She is the Dean of Academics at the Native Education College in Coast Salish Territory.