Continuing the reconciliation journey

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Elaine Young, Program Officer, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

I was honoured to represent the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the 2nd annual Building Reconciliation forum held at the University of Alberta on September 28-29, an event focusing on universities’ responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action. At the event’s opening, a beautiful walking stick symbolizing the reconciliation journey was passed to David Turpin, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Alberta, and was displayed throughout the conference.

The voices of survivors of the Indian Residential School system were prominent in this gathering, as they bravely shared their stories of neglect, abuse and survival. They also shared their hope of building a better future for their children and grandchildren. In short, they shared their truths in the spirit of reconciliation.

Education and the post-secondary sector has an important role in reconciliation and in building that more positive future. But, what exactly is reconciliation? There are no clear-cut answers. But, as the conference explored universities’ roles, obligations and opportunities, several important points of entry were discussed including: addressing student support and retention, improving research practices, building better relationships with colleges, developing sport and recreation opportunities, and bringing in required courses.

Through these challenging discussions, some points arose again and again:

  • Reconciliation is the responsibility and work of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and it happens at an individual and at a collective level. In this spirit, relationship building is key, whether it be between large universities and small tribal colleges or between researchers and communities. Albert “Sonny” McHalsie, Stó:lō Nation drove this point home by emphasizing that researchers should be prepared for a lifetime commitment in relations with Indigenous communities.
  • Some speakers expressed concern that reconciliation might become a buzzword, and the Calls to Action little more than a checklist. As the walking stick was passed to the University of Manitoba, who will host next year’s university gathering, there were calls for accountability and to keep the reconciliation conversation alive.

The Federation is working to play a part in this conversation. Among other initiatives with partner organization and at Congress, our November 9 Annual Conference in Toronto will feature a workshop exploring what reconciliation means in an urban context and the roles that humanities and social sciences practitioners can play in this process. We also are working with member associations to support their efforts to learn and discuss new practices at Congress 2017.

Reconciliation is a long journey, and we will help to carry the walking stick.



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