Dale Turner’s recent post on FEDCAN blog, “Aboriginal Relations in Canada: The Importance of Political Reconciliation” asks the question: What is the meaning of reconciliation? Turner suggests that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is about both the healing of estranged relationships as well as “an expression of Indigenous nationhood” and as such, it is political.
Why does Turner think this? According to Turner, section 35 (1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which reads: “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed”) affirms individual rights, but only within Crown sovereignty. Meaning, Aboriginal laws, customs, and practices have to be “articulated in the language of the common law, as opposed to Aboriginal peoples looking to their spiritual practices and philosophical systems of though as logical sources of their rights” (Turner 2011). For Turner then, the concern for the TRC lies not in whether or not is a good idea to have the TRC, but the kind of reconciliation happening- one that seems to ignore the political dimension of this form of reconciliation. If reconciliation includes self-government, then the TRC needs to address constitutional and political problems for actually reaching this type of reconciliation. While Turner doesn’t want the TRC to turn into a reassessment of s. 35 (1), he does suggest that the Commissioners need to pay more attention to what Aboriginal people are saying about the past, and see that the vision for healing is an expression of Indigenous nationhood, and therefore political.
Turner is making an excellent point here- what *is* the model for the TRC? The TRC website seems to suggest there are many communities events in which survivors (direct experience or children of survivors) are able to tell their stories and discuss their experiences in residential schools. These statements are meant to provide an outlet for First Nations to express their experiences, but they are also taken in order to create a historical record or the residential school system. The TRC will also create a report including recommendations to the Government of Canada in regards to residential school history, purpose, operation, effect and consequences (intergenerational included) and the impact of the ongoing legacy of the schools.
While the TRC website seems to suggest that involvement with First Nations is paramount in the TRCs mandate, I understand what Turner is suggesting and it’s a valid point- isn’t all of this reconciliation sort of dancing around a much larger issue- land claims and treaty rights? Turner defines for us using the Oxford English Dictionary- 1. The action of restoring estrange people or parties to friendship; the result of this; the fact of being reconciled. 2. The action or an act of bringing a thing or things to agreement, concord, or harmony; the fact of being made consistent or compatible. I can understand that the TRC wasn’t created to directly deal with these sorts of issues, the mandate seems to put the first possible definition of “reconciliation” into action- reconciling estranged parties. But *how*? This seems to be the more pressing question. While I can’t argue against the inherent value of the telling of stories and the airing of grievances I can’t help but wonder about the actual practical outcomes of the TRC. Treaties and land claims are certainly the elephant in the room when it comes to First Nations rights and treatment. It will be very interesting to see what the government plans on doing after the TRC finishes. I suspect some of the “what happens next” may well be based upon the recommendations of the commission itself. Of course this kind of situation only reminds of the previous attempt at suggestions for improvement for First Nations. In 1996 the Royal Commission released a report that provided a detailed summary of the history of treatment of First Nations in Canada, as well as suggestions to renew relations between the government and First Nations. So, not to be too cynical here, but it seems to me the TRC report might end up in a similar situation- dying a few months after birth. Of course, I try to remain optimistic, and I suppose the answer to this will not be answered for some time, but I appreciate Turner’s reminder than no matter what the venue, politics is at play.
Read Turner’s article here: http://blog.fedcan.ca/2011/05/03/aboriginal-relations-in-canada-the-importance-of-political-reconciliation/#more-1483