On National Aboriginal Day, what does reconciliation mean to you?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jean-Paul Restoule, Associate Professor of Aboriginal Education at OISE/University of Toronto

Remember when National Aboriginal Day was called National Aboriginal Solidarity Day? Just weeks after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) released its final report, we would do well to consider the critical role solidarity plays in reconciliation.

Achieving genuine reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in Canada is a responsibility we all share. We can’t wait for our governments or our administrative heads to make change.  Reconciliation is defined as the act of causing two people or groups to become friendly again after an argument or disagreement.

So what do Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians need to do to “become friendly again”? It starts with developing understanding and building relationships.

It is the responsibility of every Canadian to understand the injustices committed in their country’s name. Every citizen needs to learn the history and legacy of Canada’s residential schools and realize that contemporary expressions of racist and colonial policies of cultural genocide and assimilation continue to this day. The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada is one example. Cindy Blackstock presents another in her article, Reconciliation Means Not Saying Sorry Twice, explaining: “The number of First Nations children in care outside their own homes today is three times the number of children in residential schools at the height of their operation.”

We need only look to the inequitable and chronic underfunding of First Nations schools and the cultural biases still underpinning much of the educational curriculum and assessment policies across the country to find more examples of areas that need change.

So what can you do? As a professor of Aboriginal education, I’m often asked this question. I wish I had a simple answer. The reality is that we all have different strengths, abilities and areas of influence. Some of us are in places where we can advocate for mandatory education about Indigenous peoples. Some of us can influence governmental or workplace policies and procedures. Some of us can help develop culturally appropriate curricula. All of us can consider our role in respecting and honouring Aboriginal title and Treaty relationships. The success of Idle No More comes from its ability to connect diverse people and help them stand together in opposition to laws and policies that are against our shared interests. We each need to look within ourselves and see what’s within our own power to do.

There are maps and guides available. For instance, the TRC has offered many calls to action. The final report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples remains a vital, if underutilized, resource. The goals of the ACDE Accord on Indigenous Education are clear benchmarks for us to strive for in our postsecondary institutions. And the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences’ board recently adopted the Touchstones of Hope Principles and Processes to guide its work on reconciliation, which in essence is a call to the academy to take up solidarity with Indigenous peoples.

Reconciliation is a process of relationship building. Like the treaties, it has to be co-created, reflected upon and acted upon continually to remain relevant and alive. The potential exists for a new era of mutual respect but we each need to reflect upon our relationships and responsibilities towards each other. As His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada said, “Education offers us the best chance of finding our way out of this situation. Our hope lies in learning, and an unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect and inclusiveness in our relationships.”

Standing at Ottawa’s city hall listening to the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair speak to the marchers after the walk for reconciliation, my friend turned to me and said, “What do you think will happen now?” I think the answer is, “That’s up to us.”

Jean-Paul Restoule is Associate Professor of Aboriginal Education at OISE/University of Toronto and a member of the Dokis First Nation (Anishinaabe). Jean-Paul co-founded SAGE Ontario, a peer support group for graduate students whose research involves Aboriginal peoples and helped create Deepening Knowledge, an online resource designed to help teachers integrate indigenous perspectives, pedagogies and teaching methods into their classrooms for the benefit of all students.  

Image: Photo by Red Works Photography


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