Engage for Change

Why Reconciliation Isn’t Possible

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While the term ‘reconciliation’ has become a prominent narrative for Canada this year, it is important to understand that Indigenous peoples are not unified on their viewpoints on reconciliation. There are Indigenous peoples that believe that reconciliation is not possible. How could this be?

According to archaeological findings, before European contact in the early 16th Century, Canada had been inhabited for nearly 10-12,000 years by Indigenous peoples (SLMC, 2017 (link is external), Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017). And, some estimates by anthropologists and historians indicate that there may have been as many as two million Indigenous peoples living in Canada before European settlement (Canadian Encyclopedia, 2017).

What became of the original Indigenous peoples of Canada? Disease, starvation, colonial practices and policies, residential schools (i.e. being punished for practicing Indigenous culture or speaking Indigenous languages), the Sixties Scoop, and land dispossession; the population of Indigenous peoples dramatically declined until the early 20th century.

Fast forward to “Canada 150…” Canada is now 150 years old as a country. The truth is that Canada was already settled thousands of years before the Constitution. Indigenous peoples have lived here since time immemorial. For Indigenous peoples, the past 150 years have been a time of cultural repression and forced assimilation, with a paternalistic relationship with the Government of Canada.

Many non-Indigenous peoples hold the view that “it was a long time ago, why don’t they [the Indigenous peoples] get over it?” The last residential school closed in 1996. It was not that long ago… There are people in their 30’s now, that experienced the Sixties Scoop and residential schools. Still today, there are thousands of Indigenous children in the foster care systems across Canada, why?

So, when you meet an Indigenous person that says, “reconciliation is not possible,” remember that there are still residential school survivors and sixties scoop survivors alive today and that the horrific experiences that many encountered at residential schools and in foster homes (e.g. physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse) have contributed to intergenerational trauma in their homes and communities.

In addition, when you imagine a history where up to two million Indigenous peoples inhabited Canada before European settlement, imagine the present where a government founded by the British now creates law and policy for the whole country. Where are the Indigenous peoples, the ‘Original peoples’ of this land? They are on reserves. Welcome to realities of our Canada.