What is ‘reconciliation’—and how might that term limit the ways in which we think about good relations in these lands? How might we think beyond reconciliation to other possibilities?
Our team came together in 2013 concerned that the upcoming conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools contained an inherent risk: the possibility that it might be understood by the public as the closure or resolution of a “sad chapter” in Canadian history.1 We shared with numerous thinkers a deep suspicion of the idea of reconciliation—a term too often deployed to position colonial violence conveniently in the past, to burden Indigenous subjects with the work of healing, and to obscure the centrality of land in the larger conflict.2
Instead, we are interested in the possibilities of conciliation: a continuing practice of making good relations. As David Garneau explains:
Conciliation is an ongoing process, a seeking rather than the restoration of an imagined agreement. The imaginary produced within Reconciliation emphasizes post-contact narratives: the moment of conciliation settled as it if were a thing rather than a continuous relationship. This construction anesthetizes knowledge of the existence of pre-contact Native sovereignties and creates in the minds of many the sense that Indigenous people are simply a minority group rather than partners who make Canada possible, or peoples who want independence from the colonial nation that has been imposed upon them.3
Relying upon the ability of art to make strange—to allow people see things differently, beyond the structures they have become accustomed to—our team works within and in proximity to Indigenous arts in order to think, creatively, about the possibilities of conciliation. We operate across the country and in multiple disciplines:
a) to support the work of Indigenous artists and their collaborators as they provoke engagement with colonialism and Indigenous resurgence;
b) to bolster the use of creative methods in academic and community spaces; and
c) to engage with Indigenous arts that trouble reconciliation—not only via the intergenerational effects of residential schools but rather through the problem of ongoing settler-colonialism on Indigenous lands now known as Canada.
For more information on our publications, performances, and initiatives, please see the “Our Team and “Initiatives” tabs.
1 The 2008 “Statement of Apology to Former Students of Indian Residential Schools” opened with the line, “The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history.” The troubling connotations of this phrasing have been addressed by Pauline Wakeham in “The Cunning of Reconciliation: Reinventing White Civility in the ‘Age of Apology,’” Shifting the Ground of Canadian Literary Studies, ed. Smaro Kamboureli and Robert Zacharias (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2012), 209-33; by Matthew Dorrell in “From Reconciliation to Reconciling: Reading What ‘We Now Recognize’ in the Government of Canada’s 2008 Residential School Apology,” English Studies in Canada 35.1 (2009), 27-45; and by Eva Mackey in “The Apologizer’s Apology,” Reconciling Canada: Critical Perspectives on the Culture of Redress, ed. Jennifer Henderson and Pauline Wakeham (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2013), 47-62.
2 Wakeham and Henderson note “the strategic isolation and containment of residential schools as a discrete historical problem of educational malpractice rather than one devastating prong of an overarching and multifaceted system of colonial oppression that persists in the present” in their introduction “Colonial Reckoning, National Reconciliation?: Aboriginal Peoples and Culture of Redress in Canada,” English Studies in Canada 35.1 (2009), 1-26. David Garneau critiques the TRC’s echoing of the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation, which “requires the spectacle of individual accounts (confessions)” rather than tasking the larger institution with the work of restoring relations: see David Garneau, “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation,” Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action In and Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, ed. Dylan Robinson and Keavy Martin (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016), 21-42). On the erasure of land from reconciliation discourses, we turn to Leanne Simpson’s lecture “Restoring Nationhood: Addressing Land Dispossession in the Canadian Reconciliation Discourse.” While this list is not exhaustive, other critical perspectives on reconciliation can be found in Reconcile This! (West Coast Line 74 , ed. Jonathan Dewar and Ayumi Goto); Reconciling Canada: Critical Perspectives on the Culture of Redress, ed. Pauline Wakeham and Jennifer Henderson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013); Glen Coulthard’s Red Skins, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Paulette Regan’s Unsettling the Settler Within, (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2010); and Cultivating Canada: Reconciliation through the Lens of Cultural Diversity ed. Ashok Mathur, Jonathan Dewar, and Mike DeGagné (Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2011).
3 David Garneau, “Imaginary Spaces of Conciliation and Reconciliation,” Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action In and Beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, ed. Dylan Robinson and Keavy Martin (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016), 31.