Moving Beyond Reconciliation in Indigenous Communities

Reconciliation has been a growing goal for colonized countries. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities within Canada are working closely with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in hopes restoring a healthy relationship. To reconcile our past means that the state, who actively oppresses Indigenous communities must admit their racialized, systemic ways. It is evident that Leanne Simpson’s definition of reconciliation is from an Indigenous perspective and much of what she says resonates with me as an Indigenous woman. Canada is a country where many non-Indigenous people are uneducated about the upbringing of our country, and therefore, most of our population is unable to understand the uncomfortable truths of colonial impacts and how lethal they are in Indigenous communities. Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back written by Leanne Simpson is a beautiful piece of Indigenous literature that leaves all readers more knowledgeable and hopeful for change which is contrary to the documented Schedule “N.”

Schedule “N” outlines a five-year plan for Indigenous people in hopes of reconciling their relationship with the state. Leanne Simpson raises an important question and asks “how can we reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship?” (Simpson 21). This question is something that I often ask myself when I’m put in a difficult position of educating my peers or family members about Canada’s past. Simpson recognizes that “in the eyes of the liberalism, the historical wrong has now been righted and further transformation is not needed since the historic situation has been remedied” (Simpson 22). In order to reconcile and live in harmony “one nation cannot be dominant over the other” (Simpson 107). The commission is giving Indigenous communities a time-frame and a list of activities to complete, and once these are accomplished, their communities are expected to move on and live their lives. In particular, I would like to critique Schedule ‘N’ and expose how this document does not address the most prominent issues Indigenous communities and the state are conflicting over. In order for the relationship between settler-colonialist and Indigenous people to be reconciled “one nation can not control all of the land and all of the resources” (Simpson 107). Today, Indigenous communities are still fighting to protect their ancestral territory and waters. These large capitalist views that have inspired projects such as Enbridge Pipeline, LNG, and The Dakota Access Pipeline are reminders to Indigenous people that the state and current citizens of their country do not care about Indigenous people’s way of life and their land is only good for making a profit. The ecological destruction of Canada and the Northern United States is directly linked to cultural displacement. The idea of “nature” and the “wilderness” holds significant value to the spiritual and cultural beliefs of Indigenous people. And therefore, by continuing to dismantle it and abuse the resources, is making a statement and attacking all aspects of Indigenous life.

Despite the ongoing colonial impacts, Leanne Simpson believes that resurgence or in other words “advanced reconciliation” can be achieved within our communities and “we do not need funding to do this” (Simpson 17). Schedule ‘N’ provides a budget for Indigenous communities and within the budget, communities are able to access programs designed by the Truth Reconciliation Commission. However, this is not what is needed for Indigenous communities. Instead “we need our Elders, our languages and our lands, along with vision, intent, commitment, community and ultimately, action (Simpson 17), in order to regain peace.  Simpson states that “resurgence must be Indigenous at its core” (Simpson 20). And it is not a restricted time process, rather, “reconciliation is a process that will take many years to accomplish” (Simpson 22).  With healing comes sacrifice and Simpson acknowledges that “each of us having to struggle to achieve re-creation is not an easy process (Simpson 69). Simpson addresses the issue and makes it clear that healing must first start within ourselves. This process is difficult because of negative self-images. Indigenous community members obtain. Contemporary “Indigenous communities struggle with poverty, poor health and education outcomes, economic disadvantage, domestic violence, abuse, addiction and high rates of youth suicide” (Regan 11). They are systematically encouraged to think that they are not worthy and less than human in a colonial country. From a young age, Indigenous youth are “told that individually we are stupid, and that collectively our nations were and void of higher thought” (Simpson 32).

I have personally experienced a negative self-perception of my Indigenous heritage when I moved away from Haida Gwaii to attend boarding school at the age of thirteen. It is was clear to me that my community was suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism, low employment and education rates and our youth were not interested in learning our culture. For me, Haida culture was a huge component in my life prior to leaving the island for educational purposes. I recognized the point of view in which a majority of the Canadian population perceived Indigenous people and this began to cloud my pride. For that reason, I became ashamed of my own ethnicity. Racism became a growing issue of mine in the eleventh grade, and I made it my responsibility to educate myself. I focused specifically on residential schools and researched the affect they have on communities today. My great grandmother attended residential school, and I learned how her experience has affected my family. With my gained knowledge, my perspective on my people changed. I now realize that education and exploiting the historic truths are a key component to eliminating ignorance in the world and the stories of our past contribute to our present and future. However, as I read Schedule ‘N’, many of its mandates are research based and it not focussed on the future generations of Indigenous people. Instead, the commission wants to establish positive relationships with victims who attended residential schools or have been impacted by the institutions. Reconciliation is more than just acknowledging the legacy of residential. Each and every Indigenous person has and is still experiencing the violence of colonialism whether it is indirectly or directly. It is important that we recognize colonialism is an issue of the present not just the past.

Simpson states that reconciliation begins with cultural revitalization. It is important to understand that Indigenous culture is not weak. Instead, it is very strong. Communities have rebelled against colonial oppression for hundreds of years. After reading Simpson’s, Dancing on Turtle’s Back, I am more appreciative of the elders and ancestors of my community. I now understand that these individuals “resisted simply by being alive” (15).  Their ability to hold onto cultural and political knowledge is the reason I am able to learn my aboriginal language, sing my traditional songs, and perform my cultural dances. However, it is evident that many members of the community have mixed emotions in regards to their cultural and spiritual connections. Our education system in Canada avoids talking about the truth of the county’s wrong-doing and “through the lens of colonial thought and cognitive imperialism, we are often unable to see our ancestors” (Simpson 15). I believe that this issue is due to the institutions and how they tell the story of the colonial legacy. Disregarding the Indigenous story of history is “the convenient way to deal with the founding injustice of Canada [and this] allow[s] colonialism to continue” (Regan x).  Simpson expresses that it is important that we take the time to listen to our elders because they are our knowledge keepers. The elders are equipped with the skills to teach us our “feel good” practices that include singing and dancing (Simpson 42). If we are able to re-create the cultural aspects of our people, this will “support the well-being of our contemporary citizens” (Simpson 51). Reclaiming the right to right to practice traditional methods will restore Indigenous dignity.

Scholars have noted that “if children have insight into their past and strong connections with their language and spirituality, they have the basis from which to cope with life” (Grant 248). Reconciliation is about breaking that sense of fear and not being afraid to teach children the values of their people. My Nanaay (Grandmother) Roseland only spoke in English after her return from residential school. She didn’t teach my father or his siblings the importance of cultural practice instead, she shielded them from this experience so that they wouldn’t suffer like she did. Schedule ‘N’ doesn’t address these barriers Indigenous people are still experiencing in the context of language transmission which is directly linked to culture. The commission will only be available in the two official languages of Canada (French and English) that were imposed on Indigenous people of the land. Schedule ‘N’ “encourages passive empathy or a neutral distancing from the Other that is insufficient to effect social and political change” (Regan 51). By neglecting Indigenous language, it is clear that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is prioritizing the “white” community of Canada rather than focussing on the growth of Indigenous people as an entire.

Schedule ‘N’ is focused on the narrative of Residential School victims experiences whereas, Dancing on Our Tutrle’s Back, speaks of the importance of cultural revitalization. Aboriginal peoples of Canada have been forced to neglect their cultural practices and have lost their sense of belonging in the context of culture, tradition, and spirituality. Simpson makes clear that “resurgence is dancing on turtles backs; it is visioning and dancing new realities and worlds into existence (Simpson 70). In order for countries such as Canada to achieve that, it is important that we recognize “decolonization is necessary to authenticate reconciliation” (Regan 20). Reconciliation is more than creating a mandate that upholds Eurocentric views, it is about accepting Indigenous culture in all aspects and allowing those communities to foster those practices and continue to grow. After writing this paper I am left with several questions that I plan on exploring. How do Indigenous communities gain youth excitement for learning cultural traditions and languages when our success in contemporary society relies on our ability to flourish in a Eurocentric world that values capitalism and education in English and French languages? How do we shift this embedded mindset? Is it possible to fully be accepted in both Indigenous and non-Indigenous worlds?


Works Cited

Grant, Agnes. No End of Grief: Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Winnipeg: Pemmican Pub., 1996. Print.


Simpson, Leanne. Dancing on Our Turtle’s Back: Stories of Nishnaabeg Re-creation, Resurgence and a New Emergence. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Pub., 2011. Print.


Regan, Paulette. Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.


“N”, Schedule, and Mandate For The Truth And Reconciliation Commission. Commission Will Be Established to Contribute to Truth, Healing and Reconciliation. (n.d.): n. pag. Web.


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