What is reconciliation?

In today’s social climate, understanding the relationship dynamics between Indigenous peoples, settler society, and new Canadians begins with critically understanding the history of Canada from multiple perspectives. Although the legacy of colonization continues to negatively impact Indigenous communities, many Canadians are unaware of these impacts or of the fact that for Indigenous peoples in Canada, the colonial experience is not one that is comparable to settler society.

With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report in 2015 (TRC), members of mainstream society were provided with educational tools aimed at raising awareness around the colonial processes of domination, specifically the Indian Residential School system, which stands in stark contrast to the pioneer narrative of discovery and progress taught in Canadian classrooms today. The report, a component of the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement, provides a testimony of the violence, shame, and cultural upheaval related to policies of assimilation that are now attributed to one aspect of Canadian colonization, the Indian Residential Schools, as well as the actions that must be taken to redress this legacy.

At its most fundamental meaning, reconciliation is defined as the restoration of relationships to a previous state of balance and harmony—a definition which falls short of addressing colonial violence against Indigenous peoples in Canada given that the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples has not been one marked by balance or harmony. Within the context of the TRC, reconciliation is more about the creation and sustainment of respectful relationships, which requires individual and collective action in order to achieve and maintain harmonious relationships.

What is your role in reconciliation?

Hence, for the average Canadian, reconciliation is a two-part process that involves a critical awareness of how the colonial legacy has impacted Indigenous peoples and taking direct action to ensure that ongoing traumas such as racial violence and systemic oppression related to this legacy are not being perpetuated. Recognizing one’s role in reconciliation starts with learning about the colonial legacy, suspending personal judgements based on stereotypes and assumptions, and examining the origins of personal biases. It is perfectly natural to hold biases and we all have them. Biases become harmful when they are left unexamined or worse, are denied as even existing.

How can we start to rebuild trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people?

In order to build trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, we need to critically explore the truth of Canadian history, recognize the existence of multiple truths, and understand that Western society as we know it today emerges from a specific cultural frame of reference that is steeped within the colonial context.

Reconciliation means that we are prepared to learn about other truths which may be vastly different than our own. It means being prepared to challenge our own beliefs and values and accept that systemic oppression made possible by policies of assimilation is symptomatic of the colonial legacy. It means being prepared to re-examine the history of Canada through an alternate lens that better enables one to not only recognize but acknowledge the roots of racial violence as emerging from colonial ideology.

Reconciliation is an act that starts with an inward exploration and radiates outward to affect positive changes in understandings and the ways relationships are established. Reconciliation means recognizing that it is the responsibility of every Canadian to heal from colonial violence in order to remedy the legacy of assimilative policies such as the Indian Residential School experience. It means acknowledging the oppressive social context within which Indigenous peoples live out their lives today. Colonization is not over and movement towards reconciliation involves taking the necessary actions to not only recognize how it manifests in current society, but to also stop its reproduction on a collective and individual level. Once a person is able to recognize colonial forces at work, they can begin to take action by making informed choices in politics, education, employment, and other socioeconomic areas. It requires sustained effort.

For Indigenous people in Canada, it is not simply about “getting over it,” for it is difficult to heal when wounds are continually being ripped open from racial violence and systemic oppression. Reconciliation offers an opportunity for non-Indigenous Canadians to recognize that the bigger wound that requires healing is the gaping reality that the devastation created by colonization has often been reduced to a simple mistake of the past, and that by apologizing and providing money to victims, those mistakes are adequately addressed. These attitudes point to a widespread ignorance that has left a great gulf between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. However, the potential to narrow this divide is made possible by exploring the truth in order to walk a shared path of reconciliation.


About the Author: Dr. Gabrielle Lindstrom (nee Weasel Head) is from the Kainaiwa First Nation in Southern Alberta and is an assistant professor in Indigenous Studies with the Department of Humanity, Faculty of Arts at Mount Royal University. Dr. Lindstrom’s research focuses on the interplay between trauma and resilience in the post-secondary experiences of Indigenous adult learners, meaningful assessment in higher education, Indigenous homelessness, the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL): intercultural parallels, Indigenous lived-experience of resilience, parenting assessment tools reform in Child Welfare, anti-colonial theory, and anti-racist pedagogy.


Learn how United Way is making Indigenous work an organizational priority by putting reconciliation at the forefront of our work.