What is the relationship between reconciliation and decolonization? That was one of the provocative questions posed by Dr. Jocelyn Thorpe (women’s and gender studies) as the University of Manitoba’s seminar series on Truth and Reconciliation kicked off Sept. 8, 2014.

Online images of decolonization include a fist holding a feather in the Idle No More movement. Reconciliation images tend to have religious overtones and promote fuzzier concepts, Thorpe said.

“Decolonization is a term that insists upon a change in relationships, including relationships of governance and with the land.”

With reconciliation, “it’s clear that something needs to happen to restore the supposedly friendly relations, but it’s not exactly clear what needs to occur, who needs to do it and for whose benefit,” Thorpe said. “Some have suggested that reconciliation is a Western term that is less about addressing wrongs and supporting the well-being of Aboriginal peoples or restitution, and more about letting non-Indigenous Canadians off the hook for understanding our history or its implications in the present.”

Thorpe noted that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s apology for Indian residential schools did not mention colonization.

To some people, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the beginning of a dialogue that will need to last for generations, Thorpe said. Other Canadians see it as an ending – painful history now dealt with that we will not need to discuss again.

She is excited about the new National Research Centre for Truth and Reconciliation housed at the University of Manitoba that will inherit the archives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada when it winds down next year. The core of its collection will be the stories of survivors, mostly in digital formats.

“It’s rare to have an archive where there are so many Indigenous voices,” Thorpe said. “The written record is partial and very much dominated by the upper-class European men who more often than not believed in the imperial project.”

Ry Moran, director of the new research centre, envisions people across the country accessing the archival materials on iPads.

sliResearchers using the centre will help put the stories in context. “Residential schools were just one aspect of the whole aggressive assimilation policy that happened in this country,” Moran said.

Prof. Karen Busby, director of the Centre for Human Rights Research that is co-hosting the public seminar series, outlined the components of the $2 billion settlement agreement negotiated by residential school survivors. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission came out of that settlement, but survivors also received financial compensation.

Graduate and law students attending the seminar series for credit were disturbed by the point system used to determine how much compensation abuse survivors receive.


What benchmarks could be used to demonstrate whether reconciliation has been achieved in Canada?

Moran suggested monitoring measurable indicators that things are not right between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples: boil water advisories, missing women, education success rates and over-incarceration of Aboriginal peoples.

Whose truth and whose reconciliation are at stake?

Moran said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has uncovered multiple truths and prompted many different kinds of reconciliation. “Some of the most powerful moments that I saw in the TRC… are where the dad turns to the daughter … and says, ‘Now you know why I am the way that I am and now you know why life was so messed up for us when you were a young child.’”

See seminar series podcasts and schedule.