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Performing and climbing: Reflections on reconciliation

December 15, 2021 was the sixth anniversary of the release of the complete findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I remember sitting in a conference hall in Ottawa on that release day in 2015. I was moved by the prayers of Elders, the presence of Survivors and the profound speeches of the Commissioners on the difficult and incomplete journey of truth. I also remember an earnest speech from the new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, promising full implementation of the 94 Calls to Action. Those were noble words and good aspirations.

Numerous times throughout the TRC journey, the Chair Murray Sinclair explained that the legacy of residential schools and colonialism run deep and that reconciliation is, therefore, a generational project. At the release of the 94 Calls to Action (June 2015) Sinclair said, “We have described for you a mountain. We have shown you a path to the top. We call upon you to do the climbing.”

Now, more than six years in, how is the climbing going? By crude numbers: 13 of 94 Calls to Action are fulfilled, and 20 Calls to Action have had little to no attention so far (see CBC Beyond 94). At the Centre for Public Dialogue we track implementation of Calls to Action 7-10 (educational equity) and we’ve noticed promising steps in Federal Government budgets starting in 2016 but it is, so far, difficult to track the impact of these changes.

The Yellowhead Institute is an Indigenous think tank that has done a Calls to Action Accountability study for the last three years. Their report for 2021 noted implementation of three Calls to Action (15, 80, 94) as promising. They also note that the progress happened on Calls to Action that were “low hanging fruit” and implemented in the context of an international media glare related to revelations of unmarked graves on the grounds of multiple residential schools. In this sense, says Yellowhead, reconciliation has become a “performance” focused on “managing Canada’s reputation.”

In the CRC’s national reconciliation and decolonization work, we are honoured to work with Indigenous Elders and Church leaders who regularly remind us that reconciliation is not a performance, or a box that we can check and say “done.” The Elders say that reconciliation is a turning away from systemic evils that have led to unmarked graves, stark inequities in education or child welfare, or land and treaty conflicts. It is also a turning towards relationships of respect and a seeking of justice with Indigenous neighbours.

The recovery of unmarked graves starting in summer 2021 led to a sense of urgency and conviction among many people in Canada. Wearing orange and earnest affirmations of “Every Child Matters” were prominent among many of us after that. But as Yellowhead and Elders remind us, these “performances” are only reconciliation when they include changed behaviour and right relationships.

Let me offer two steps on a reconciliation climb: Join a Hearts Exchanged learning and action journey (contact gro.ancrc@degnahcxe_straeh for more) and bear witness – in our churches and as citizens – to the urgency of implementing the TRC’s Calls to Action.

Author

  • Mike is Director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Centre for Public Dialogue and a PhD student with NAIITS, an Indigenous Learning Community. He lives in Ottawa, Ont.

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