Module 10: Indigenous Movements and Reconciliation Efforts

Developed by Nicole Wegner, Department of Political Studies, University of Saskatchewan.

Overview

Indigenous governance and politics in Canada must be understood against the background of colonialism, both historical and contemporary. This module introduces students to the domestic and international efforts to have Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians reconcile the history of colonialism. While much focus has been spent exploring political and governance issues faced by Indigenous communities, these challenges cannot be addressed without considering relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.  The module will begin by exploring recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada. These recommendations will be examined against theoretical concepts of reconciliation and decolonization. Finally, the module will discuss international Indigenous diplomatic efforts including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and its effects on governance and politics in Canada.

Objectives
 By the end of this module you should be able to:

  1. Assess recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada.
  2. Evaluate pathways for reconciliation and decolonization.
  3. Explore how international Indigenous diplomacy through UNDRIP has affected the Canadian political environment.
Module Instructions
  1. Read the module Learning Material.
  2. Read the Required Readings.
  3. Complete the optional Learning Activities. These will not be graded but will enhance your understanding of the course material.
  4. Complete the Self-Test and check your answers with those provided. If you have additional questions, please contact your instructor.
  5. Complete weekly Learning Journal entries within Blackboard. These are a graded component.
  6. Check the syllabus for any other formal evaluations due.
Key Terms and Concepts
  • Reconciliation
  • Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • Decolonization
  • United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
Required Readings
  1. Boyer, Yvonne. “Using the United Nations Framework to Advance and Protect the Inherent Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada.” The Internationalization of Indigenous Rights: UNDRIP in the Canadian Context – Special report (2014), 11-16. [PDF in Blackboard]
  2. Corntassel, Jeff, Chaw-win-is, and T’lakwadzi. “Indigenous storytelling, truth-telling, and community approaches to reconciliation.” ESC: English Studies in Canada 35, no. 1 (2009): 137-159. [PDF in Blackboard]
  3. Nagy, Rosemary. “Can Reconciliation Be Compelled? Transnational Advocacy and the Indigenous–Canada Relationship.” Peace & Change 42, no. 3 (2017): 313-341. [PDF in Blackboard]
  4. Regan, Paulette. “Introduction: A Settler’s Call to Action.” In Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada, 1-18. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2010. [PDF in Blackboard]
  5. Stanton, Kim. “Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Settling the Past?” International Indigenous Policy Journal 2, no. 3 (2011): 1-18. [PDF in Blackboard]
  6. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. Calls to Action. 2015. http://nctr.ca/assets/reports/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf [Online]
  7. United Nations. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 2008. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf [Online]

Learning Material

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada

The Indian Residential Schools (IRS) system was acknowledged by Canada’s Governor General in 2004 as “Canada’s greatest national shame” (cited in Stanton 2011). The IRS system, a formal and mandatory structure enforced by the federal government, has been recognized as causing major socio-economic effects in Indigenous communities, including the obstruction of cultural values and practices, loss of traditional land and language skills, and the development of social pathologies (including the interruption of parenting skills) for many First Nations in Canada. Unlike other international truth and reconciliation commissions (e.g., Uganda, Nepal, El Salvador, Guatemala, South Africa, Chile), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada grew out of Canada’s largest class action settlement, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). The IRSSA has set aside $1.9 billion for the approximately 80,000 living survivors of IRS schools, funds for commemorative projects, funds for healing projects, and the individual mechanisms (Common Experience Payment and Independent Assessment Process) for survivors who experienced physical or sexual trauma while at residential schools.

Kim Stanton (2011) notes that the IRSSA and the TRC were not commissioned due to public and government concern for Indian Residential Schools (IRS) survivors, but to avoid costly litigation for the government (p.4). The TRC was not a formal legal process and strived to shift the focus of the Commission from being lawyer-centered to victim-centered. Survivors felt strongly that a truth commission was necessary to address widespread ignorance amongst non-Indigenous Canadians about the IRS system and its ongoing legacy in Indigenous communities (Stanton 2011, 6). In a general sense, the TRC’s mandate is to educate the public through the creation of a historical record of the IRS system. Although titled “Truth and Reconciliation”, the TRC mandate did not provide much detail with respect to the reconciliation aspect of its work (Stanton 2011, 10). Stanton notes:

Truth commissions have often raised expectation of victims that there will be some resolution to their situation…expectations may be even higher when the commission seeks not just truth but also reconciliation as a central goal.Stanton 2011, 11

Despite the absence of a specific mandate to accomplish reconciliation, the TRC issued a final report with recommendations of how all Canadians can work towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous inhabitants. In the following section, we will explore the theoretical concepts of reconciliation in Canada.

In 2015, the Justin Trudeau government pledged to implement all 94 TRC recommendations, including a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The Recommendations are broadly divided into two main areas: Legacy and Reconciliation. Recommendations in the Legacy section are divided into sections on child welfare, education, health, and justice, whereby the Report calls upon government and service providers to take specific actions in these areas to remedy socio-economic, political, and legal disadvantages resulting from the IRS aftermath. The Reconciliation section advocates for a number of structural governmental actions and reforms, most notably the full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  Calls in the Reconciliation section also seek to affirm Treaty rights, including the repudiation that European settlers had sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples through concepts such as terra nullius.

Learning Activity 10-1

Review the TRC Calls to Action (see Required Readings) and complete the following mini-quiz:

Learning Activity 10-2

The TRC Recommendations also are directed at newcomers or recent immigrants to Canada. View the final Recommendation of the Calls to Action (#94, see Required Readings).

Do you think this is significant? Why or why not? Give some explanation for your position on the whiteboard below.

Made with Padlet

Next, watch the video Reconciliation report card from CBC’s Power & Politics, about the 2016 Implementation of three Calls to Action. Observe how First Nations, Inuit, and Metis leaders feel about the TRC recommendations and ongoing actions.

Reconciliation and Decolonization in Canada

Figure 10-1: Artwork: “Decolonize”. Source: https://feralfutures.wordpress.com/decolonization/ Permission: This material has been reproduced in accordance with the University of Saskatchewan interpretation of Sec.30.04 of the Copyright Act.

As mentioned, the concept of reconciliation is somewhat ambiguous. The IRS framed the TRC as part of a reconciliatory effort of “rebuilding and renewing…the relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians” and recognizes that it requires commitment from all Canadians. Because the government and involved churches already acknowledged abuses of the IRS system, the TRC was not intended to convince Commissioners these abuses took place, but rather record them and offer recommendations for future action.

Stanton (2011) noted that the means to reconciliation include “truth telling, acknowledgement of past wrongs, reparations for the victims, addressing the structural causes of the wrongs, and a rebalancing between societal groups to prevent the harms recurring” (11). Reconciliation has also been conceptualized “not as an endpoint, but as an ever-deepening process” (Nagy 2011, 314).

Paulette Regan expresses that reconciliation is about “unsettling the settler within”. She calls upon non-Indigenous Canadians to question historical beliefs about the relationship between settlers and Indigenous peoples and to take responsibility in creating an ongoing relationship that is transformative of social relations. Regan explains that settlers need to consider the possibility that the Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationship(s) has never been predominantly peaceful or reconciliatory, and that non-Indigenous people should question why they have known so little about the colonial history within Canada or the abuses that occurred in the IRS system.

Adam Barker echoes this, noting that many settler Canadians have failed to see their own “colonial power” that results from the history of colonialism, including the IRS system (Barker 2012). Therefore, reconciliation should arguably also include mechanisms that address historical or contemporary myths about Canadian society and history that rationalize current and past colonial practices of the government. This includes calling into question the idea that North America (Turtle Island) was “nobody’s land” when settlers made contact with Indigenous peoples, questioning the history of the expansion of Canada as a country that glosses over violence against Indigenous peoples, and rebutting the institutional policies used by the government for assimilation that went largely unchallenged by non-Indigenous society.

Instrumental to this call is the concept of settler colonialism, defined as “land dispossession and the dissolution of the indigenous population occupying the land” by a settler society (Nagy, 315).  Therefore, reconciliation is not simply about acknowledging past injustices, it is also about acknowledging that past injustices are still present in current socio-political structures in which all Canadians operate. John Paul Lederach (1998) explains that true reconciliation is about remembering and change, rather than forgiving and forgetting (245).

Learning Activity 10-3

Regan (see Required Readings) poses the following query: “Will we view a truth-telling and reconciliation process simply as a way to put the past, and our guilt, behind us quickly? Or will we recognize the possibility of opening a transformative pathway on a journey that starts within ourselves?”. Considering this query, record your thoughts in the box below. Be sure to save your answers as these may be helpful in constructing your Reflective Journal Entry for this module.

Much discussion of reconciliation also calls upon all citizens to embrace decolonization. Like the term “reconciliation”, decolonization is also ambiguous and can mean different visions for different groups. For some scholars, decolonization means dismantling formal colonial structures, including the Indian Act, and reinforcing Treaty relationships. Others emphasize the need for acknowledgment and respect of unceded Indigenous sovereignty over the political, economic, and social decisions affecting Indigenous communities. Some scholars go further still, theorizing that colonization was intrinsically linked to the reconceptualization of shared land to land-as-property (Tuck and Yang 2012). For these scholars, “decolonization brings about the repatriation of Indigenous land and life” (Tuck and Yang 2012, 1). Taiaiake Alfred promotes land restitution, without this, reconciliation is simply “pacifying discourse” that absolves settler society of its colonial injustices (cited in Nagy 2017, 316). In many of these discussions about reconciliation and decolonization, the exact actions to be taken differ depending on perspective, while the general understanding of a need for social transformation (including the re-valuation of Indigenous language, culture, and agency) seems to be threaded throughout.

Figure 10-2: Street art in Montreal: “Decolonize Turtle Island”. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Decolonize_Turtle_Island.jpg Permission: CC BY-SA 3.0 Courtesy of Gates of Ale.

International Indigenous Diplomacy

Reconciliation processes in Canada may have increased momentum over the past few years, however these have not arisen without great efforts by Indigenous activists and groups, both domestically and internationally. International Indigenous advocacy efforts bring awareness to treaty abuses, human rights abuses, legal mistreatment, and the legacy of colonialism that affects Indigenous groups globally in similar ways. One such initiative has been work at the United Nations to address global discrimination against Indigenous peoples worldwide.

International Organization: The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)

In the 1980s, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) established a Working Group on Indigenous Populations to investigate discrimination of global Indigenous populations. The drafting of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) took nearly ten years. One of the founding principles in this document is the right of self-determination of Indigenous peoples over their traditional lands, natural resources, languages, cultures, and institutions. The UNDRIP, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007, is a non-binding international instrument that recognizes many indigenous nations globally have suffered, or still suffer, harmful effects of colonization. This includes recognition of ongoing discrimination, marginalization and human rights violations of world indigenous populations and sets out individual and group rights. In 2007, 143 nations voted to adopt UNDRIP, 11 nations abstained from voting, and 4 nations voted against the Declaration: Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. The Assembly of First Nations publically condemned this decision and called for the Canadian government to resign its membership to the UN Human Rights Council. By 2010, the federal government endorsed UNDRIP as “aspirational” but noted it was incompatible with Canadian legal and constitutional structures.

In 2016, Canada removed its objector status and officially pledged to adopt and implement the UNDRIP. Although the details of how UNDRIP will be implemented have yet to be solidified, the Minister of Indigenous Affairs noted that the implementation of UNDRIP will be accomplished through Section 35 of the Constitution. The extent of this decision is yet to be fully understood, but many consider this gesture a step in the right direction towards reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies in Canada.

Brenda Gunn, a legal expert on Indigenous rights explains that the association of UNDRIP with existing Constitutional rights is problematic as “a critical distinction between rights protected under section 35(1) and UNDRIP is that the rights recognized in UNDRIP are defined according to Indigenous peoples’ own laws, as a fundamental aspect of self-determination of peoples…to implement UNDRIP, Canadian constitutional law must shift in its approach to defining Indigenous peoples’ rights toward ensuring that the rights are defined according to Indigenous peoples’ legal traditions” (2017, 33-34). Others have supported this sentiment, including NDP Romeo Saganash who introduced a private member’s bill (Bill c-262) that would require the Government of Canada to take all measures necessary to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with UNDRIP. Paul Joffee, legal representative for the Grand Council of the Crees explains “what UNDRIP does is ask for a while lot of change. Essentially, its’s asking for a decolonization of the entire system” (cited in Labbe 2017).

The incompatibility of Canadian laws and policies, including the Indian Act, with UNDRIP is a large challenge for current and future governments who will need to figure out how to negotiate and adapt Canadian systems if UNDRIP is to be fully implemented. This challenge should consider our overview of the Indian Act from Module 5 and the challenges of moving outside of the system.

A major political challenge to be negotiated in the implementation of UNDRIP relates to Article 32.1 that demand:

States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.UNDRIP

As Canada has a large resource extraction industry, this particular clause has been controversial. Currently in Canada, a policy exists that there is a Duty to Consult and Accommodate Indigenous groups. However, the current policy does not stipulate consent is required, simply consultation (and as the Haida Nation v. British Columbia decision indicates, this duty rests with the Crown, not with third parties in industry).

Figure 10-3: “Nothing in the Declaration (UNDRIP) diminishes, extinguishes Indigenous peoples’ rights now or in the future.” Source: https://www.kairoscanada.org/site-c-legal-challenge-undrip-anniversary Permission: This material has been reproduced in accordance with the University of Saskatchewan interpretation of Sec.30.04 of the Copyright Act.

Learning Activity 10-4

Read the article Free, Prior, and Informed Consent from Amnesty International Canada, and answer the following mini-quiz about Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC):


The concept of FPIC also appears in the Articles of UNDRIP (see Required Readings) and is not exclusive to resource extraction, despite the heavy political discourse that focuses on this area. Review the Articles of UNDRIP and then complete the fill-in-the-blank matching exercise below.

Conclusion

Despite the extensive emphasis on FPIC as a challenge to implementing the UNDRIP, this doctrine is not solely about the FPIC principle. It is worth noting that 16 out of 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission involve adopting the UNDRIP as a framework for reconciliation. This speaks to the importance of UNDRIP principles, including self-determination, land ownership rights, treaty rights, and respect for Indigenous culture, languages and laws, in the process of reconciliation in Canada.

Reconciliation in Canada is not only about changing government policies and structures. Reconciliation is about mending relationships and perspectives between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Reconciliation is best conceived as a process, rather than an objective condition, whereby these relationships must be continuously tended to in a space of mutual respect and consideration.

Learning Activity 10-4

Add a word to the input box below about what reconciliation means for you, personally. Make sure you submit your answer.

As words are added, the word cloud below will rearrange and show the most common responses of the class. (You may need to refresh the page to see your submission.)

 


 

Self Test and Answers

Quiz yourself by writing down responses to each of these questions below. When finished, click each question to reveal the suggested answer. Doing the Self-Test in this way will help you prepare for the Final Exam.

1. What were the objectives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations in the Final Report?

The TRC mandate was to educate the public through the creation of a historical record of Indian Residential Schools (IRS). The recommendations of the final report were targeted at various sectors (government, industry, education) to take meaningful actions and provide pathways forward for resolving the legacy of the IRS system.

2. How can reconciliation be understood in Canada?

Reconciliation is an ambiguous term, broadly defined as an effort to rebuild and renew a relationship of trust and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Some scholars see reconciliation as a process, rather than a definitive end goal that requires non-Indigenous Canadians to confront and resolve settler colonialism in political, economic, and social structures that influence the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups.

3. How does decolonization relate to reconciliation?

Decolonization can broadly refer to the dismantling of colonial structures, including the Indian Act, that will help to facilitate reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups. Most scholars believe that some aspect of social transformation is required for decolonization, while some scholars believe that land restitution is an important part of decolonization.

4. What is settler colonialism?

Settler colonialism is a type of colonialism differentiated from immigration. The premise of settler colonialism is that the settler population sought to establish a society and displace Indigenous ways of life, whereby immigration (broadly speaking) does not involve the subjugation of Indigenous peoples or practices.

5. How has the UNDRIP affected the Canadian political environment?

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) has influenced domestic political action in Canada by using international pressure to achieve change. For Canadian politics, the UNDRIP has been referenced as a framework to achieve reconciliation, even if the implementation mechanisms of UNDRIP are yet to be determined.

 


 

Glossary

Decolonization: Processes that restore world views, structure, practices, and views of history that existed prior to established systems of colonization.

Duty to Consult and Accommodate: Established after the Haida Nation v. British Columbia (2004) Supreme Court Decision that found the Crown has a duty to consult and accommodate Aboriginal peoples when Crown actions or decisions may affect Aboriginal or Treaty rights.

Haida Nation v. British Columbia: established that the Crown has a duty to consult with Aboriginal peoples and to accommodate their interests. This 2004 Supreme Court Decision was a ruling on a dispute over Haida claim to land and access to cedar harvesting.

Indian Residential School (IRS) system: A system of day and boarding schools for Indigenous children funded by the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs and administered by churches that operated between 1879 and 1996. The intent of the schools was to educate and assimilate children into dominant Canadian culture. Indigenous persons subject to the Indian Act were mandated to attend residential schools and there has been documented testimony of extreme physical, sexual and psychological abuses that took place at many institutions.

Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA): The largest class action lawsuit in Canadian history to address the damages inflicted upon Indigenous children who were mandated to attend residential schools between 1879 and 1996.

International Indigenous advocacy: Efforts by international Indigenous groups globally to promote recognition of Indigenous rights and decolonization and changes in government policies in colonial or post-colonial states.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG): A phenomenon in Canada whereby Indigenous women and girls are at risk of higher levels of violence, including higher risk to be victims of homicide. Based upon reports of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Native Women’s Association of Canada, there have been a large number of Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing since 1980. Although Indigenous females make up only 4% of Canada’s overall population, they represent 16% of all homicide victims (Government of Canada)

Reconciliation: Broadly defined as the restoration of friendly relations between two persons or groups, reconciliation in Canada is a process by which trust and respect must be rebuilt between Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.

Settler colonialism: A type of colonialism by which a settler population seeks to establish a society and displace Indigenous peoples from their lands. Veracini (2011) explains that settler colonialism is not simply about migration, as settlers move into Indigenous territory and establish their dominance whereby migrants (differentiated from settlers) move into Indigenous territory but remain subordinate (p.1).

Terra nullius: Latin for “nobody’s land”, often associated with the assumption that certain lands (e.g., North America) were unowned prior to European assertion of sovereignty.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission Canada (TRC): a commission established by parties of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement intended to record the history of abuses that occurred during the Indian residential school system. The TRC was commissioned between June 2008 and December 2015.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP): A General Assembly declaration not legally binding in international law, the UNDRIP was adopted in 2007 by a majority of states with the exception of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. In 2016, Canada retracted its objector status, although noted that while Canada supported the doctrine in principle, there were a number of legal and Constitutional impediments to full implementation.

 


 

References

Barker, Adam J. “Locating Settler Colonialism” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History. Vol 13, No. 3 (Winter 2012). N.p.

Government of Canada. “Background on the inquiry”. Available online at: https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1449240606362/1449240634871

Gunn, Brenda L. “Beyond Van der Peet: Bringing Together International, Indigenous, and Constitutional Law” in UNDRIP Implementation: Braiding International, Domestic, and Indigenous Laws. Special Report. Centre of International Governance Innovation. (2017). Pp. 29-39.

Labbe, Stefan. “Why the UN’s declaration on Indigenous rights has been slow to implement in Canada”. Open Canada. (21 July 2017). Available online at: https://www.opencanada.org/features/why-uns-declaration-indigenous-rights-has-been-slow-implement-canada/

Lederach, John Paul. “Beyond Violence: Building Sustainable Peace”. In Eugene Weiner (ed.), The Handbook of Interethnic Coexistence. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group: 1998. 236–245

Nagy, Rosemary. "Can Reconciliation Be Compelled? Transnational Advocacy and the Indigenous–Canada Relationship." Peace & Change 42, no. 3 (2017): 313-341.

Regan, Paulette. “Introduction: A Settler’s Call to Action.” In Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada, 1-18. Vancouver, BC: UBC Press, 2010.

Stanton, Kim. "Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Settling the Past?" International Indigenous Policy Journal 2, no. 3 (2011): 1-18.

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is not a metaphor”/ Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Vol 1, No. 1 (2012) pp. 1-40.

United Nations. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 2008. http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

Veracini, Lorenzo. “Introducing” Settler Colonial Studies. Vol 1, No. 1 (2011), pp. 1-12.

 


 

Recommended Readings

Gunn, Brenda L. “Beyond Van der Peet: Bringing Together International, Indigenous, and Constitutional Law” in UNDRIP Implementation: Braiding International, Domestic, and Indigenous Laws. Special Report. Centre of International Governance Innovation. (2017). Pp. 29-39.

Labbe, Stefan. “Why the UN’s declaration on Indigenous rights has been slow to implement in Canada”. Open Canada. (21 July 2017). Available online at: https://www.opencanada.org/features/why-uns-declaration-indigenous-rights-has-been-slow-implement-canada/

Tuck, Eve and K. Wayne Yang. “Decolonization is not a metaphor” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society. Vol 1, No. 1 (2012) pp. 1-40.