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Reconciliation in the Classroom

The following is in response to the article " ...click to read more



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Reconciliation in the Classroom

The following is in response to the article "This Reconciliation is for the Colonizer" and resulted from an email I received from a good friend and teacher who was concerned that what she was doing in her classroom to promote reconciliation was meaningless. Or as stated in her own words

“Does this render any work on behalf of non-indigenous people, like myself, towards T&R meaningless? Or even worse than that...a veiled form of continued colonization?”

The following is my response to her in an attempt to examine what I had also read. These are my opinions based on my current level of knowledge. I do not speak for all Indigenous people; I only speak for myself through what I have experienced and understand.


Reconciliation as we see it today is a government sponsored process with a stated purpose of addressing the atrocities revealed by the TRC. In a broader sense it may be seen as an attempt to reverse the affects of colonization.

Within this discussion you have two parties, the Indigenous people of Canada and the Canadian Government which can be regarded as a proxy for the non-indigenous Canadian citizenship. Both parties view reconciliation differently. This is the biggest problem.

Most Indigenous people view reconciliation as a process that is attempting to reverse colonization. Or to put it another way, reconciliation equals de-colonization.

The promise of de-colonization represents a step towards "Sovereignty and Self Government" or as the Two Row Wampum illustrates, an environment in which two different societies (FN & non-FN) can live their social-political existences unencumbered by the other.

However, the Canadian government sees reconciliation more as a social equity face-lift that will prove to the world that Canada is truly sorry for its revealed misdeeds towards the Indigenous population, and that in doing so all the awful truths will be reconciled allowing Canada to turn the page and continue forward with a clear conscience.

This begs the questions however, would Canada have started the reconciliation process if it wasn’t caught? If it’s misdeeds weren’t revealed to the world through the TRC?

The previous 10 years with the Harper government has shown that everything was done to suppress this knowledge, and in fact this was the way of doing business for the past 150 years. While funds were cut to Indigenous programs again and again (much like what John A. MacDonald did when starving Poundmaker and Big Bear, forcing them to sign Treaty 6), and indigenous children received 30% less education funding than the rest of non-indigenous Canada, the social-economic-political system we call Canada continued to deal with the “Indian Problem” as it always had... the status quo.


Indigenous Reconciliation

This form of reconciliation involves the promotion of Sovereignty and Self Government. In order for this to happen First Nation governments will need to have the ability to provide for their own people WITHOUT the involvement of the Canadian government. Yes, no handouts, no subsidies, no money...most First Nation people want this. We want to provide for ourselves and our families. In order to do this we need resources, the resources that have been taken from us through the original act of colonization. In a nutshell we need our land.

However, no one is foolish enough to think that Canada will suddenly give back all the land negotiated through its broken treaties and sail back to England. But there are a number of actions that could take place that will put a halt to the process of wrestling control of what little territory is currently held by various First Nations.

For example, the Canadian government could stop stone-walling the process for the return of treaty land that is currently not developed and adjacent to land already held by the First Nation, as illustrated by the current struggles in Caledonia and Oka.

In addition, Canada must allow the First Nations with resource rich land to benefit directly from those resources. For example, currently in BC there are a number of First Nations that have territories with abundant timber. Yet they are unable to benefit from this resource because the Indian Act prevents them from directly doing so. The Canadian government has granted licenses to timber companies to harvest timber and profit from its sale; in return the government receives a "stump fee". The First Nation gets nothing.

In the USA Indigenous people are treated more as a sovereign nation in that they are allowed to benefit from the resources of their land. For example, they can directly negotiate with the timber company or a mine and receive the proceeds directly. Yes, the USA is better in many respects when dealing with Indigenous people.

So the Indigenous form of reconciliation involves the return of SOME land, and the ability for a First Nation to benefit from the resources of their territory so they can be self-sufficient, and form a social if not political sovereign nation that would allow them to make their own social and political decisions for their people.

Canadian Reconciliation

Canada's view of reconciliation centers around the Calls to Action. In affect they are addressing the symptoms of colonization. Now I’m not saying that this isn't important, because these symptoms include child suicide, poverty, inadequate clean water, race based murder, and general racism.

Canada's reconciliation is a band-aid that maintains a dependency on government handouts without addressing the cause of the inequity. It is a process that is still geared towards eventual assimilation. Sovereignty is the opposite of assimilation but is the only long-term answer to what can be called real reconciliation.


What I see are two ideas of reconciliation, represented by two parties. Both are valid and needed but the Canadian government is willing only to accept its form of reconciliation because it promotes eventual assimilation or colonization.

Why do I say this? While Canada enthusiastically promotes social reconciliation, they are in the process of terminating land rights that were granted through past treaties and protected by the Constitution. (Section 35 is the part of the Constitution Act that recognizes and affirms Indigenous rights.) This new “treaty process” assimilates the First Nations that sign these treaties, giving up their rights as stated in Section 35 and making their territory a municipality.  

It also needs to be remembered that those Constitutional rights were traded for larger traditional territories and the implied resources that these same First Nations had title to originally. In affect taking away what was given so that Canada could have it all. Once this is done, there is no chance for Sovereignty and Self Government... colonization will be complete and all First Nation people will be assimilated. “Resistance is futile”.


Now you asked me if what you/we are doing as teachers is worth it? My answer is YES!

In the past Canada tried to bury Indigenous people so that they could take their land and resources. When they could not kill them all, they tried to bury them within their society through assimilation. It almost worked, and did to a certain degree. What WE are doing is "un-burying" that which was buried. We are bringing Indigenous culture and ideas to the youth of today who, unlike their parents will have a better understanding of Indigenous people within Canada. It is my hope that through this understanding there will be less racism and more understanding towards Indigenous people. By educating the young and giving them a positive perspective of Indigenous people we are literally planting the seeds for a better relationship between non-indigenous and indigenous society.

This is a small part, but an important one. I/We can do very little to promote “Sovereignty and Self Government”, but we can do a lot to help change the way Indigenous people will be viewed and thus treated in the future. We can try to create an environment where Indigenous people are respected and admired, where they are not seen as savages below the level of current non-indigenous society. Where our culture is respected and not taken as a fashion accessory. Where our women and girls are not fetishized as objects of desire.

One thing I think no one has acknowledged or realized, is that there will always be two separate societies. Indigenous and non-indigenous... one ship and one canoe paddling down the river of time.

Deron Ahsén:nase Douglas