truth & reconciliation

I have been reflecting on my childhood experiences for decades, and if there has one thing I have learned, it’s that everyone wants to skip over the truth and get right to the reconciliation. No acknowledgement. No real apology. No genuine forgiveness. Just jump over everything potentially uncomfortable and land where the perpetrator wants to be: without accountability, all sins forgiven, everything back to ‘normal.’

That isn’t reconciliation. That’s perpetuating the abuse.

Canada is stolen territory. It’s not hyperbole; it’s a fact. Our lifestyle, and the politics of generosity and inclusion our wealth affords, have been bought with indigenous blood.

Truth must come first, and then other steps need to follow: a genuine apology based on real remorse, reparations and amends, understanding that a true apology doesn’t entitle you to a resumption of the relationship and that this choice remains with the victim, and then genuine efforts to change over time that can lead to the slow build of trust which then forms the basis of reconciliation. It means years of embracing the discomfort of carrying the weight of the sins that have, until now, been put on the backs of the victims.

If, say, your partner cheated on you, and you went to a marital counselor together and drew up a list of actions that need to be taken in order to continue your relationship and rebuild trust, you’d need to see a number of things: 1) that agreeing to the list is not itself sufficient; 2) that undertaking a token number of actions is not sufficient; 3) that completing the entire list is not sufficient, if it’s done as a transaction: 50 actions for one forgiveness, no take-backs. The actions themselves are not the point, it’s that the actions reflect a genuine remorse and intention to do and be better, to rebuild safety.

This is a terrible analogy: Canada isn’t so much a betraying spouse of indigenous peoples as a brutally violent and abusive spouse who married their partner by force, then also engaged in constant unprotected sex on the side, while also beating the children. Having gone through a truth and reconciliation process and come up with a report listing actions that need to be completed is not enough. Doing a handful of the actions is not enough. Doing the entire list, if that’s done with the attitude that on completion we are entitled to forgiveness and normalized relations, is not enough, as if truth and reconciliation were a Tim Horton’s loyalty card and we were diligently marking off our double-doubles.

I of course wore my orange shirt and am reading books and taking courses and making donations, because that is the easy part. I’m glad we have a Truth and Reconciliation Day, and pretty embarrassed that, on-brand, it has become an exercise in profiting off of indigenous pain for the benefit of white settlers who are stealing their art.

Truth has to come first, and we’ll know it has because it will come with the genuine bone-crushing remorse of really feeling and knowing what a cartoon villain Canada has been. If this were a movie set in a fictional country on another planet, and there were native inhabitants who were brutally killed and displaced, their resources and territories stolen and destroyed, their adults abused and addicted, their children stolen and killed, their sick kidnapped and buried far from home–and that occupied nation managed to rise up and kick the colonizers back to their home planet–we would cheer. We know we are not the good guys.

What would happen if we acted towards reconciliation from genuine remorse and a sincere willingness to work to become decent and safe? What if we approached this as if we truly were willing to see Canada become fundamentally different–even no longer named Canada–so long as it meant everyone living here was valued? If we weren’t clutching so hard to what we insist are the “good parts”? What if we acted as if we truly knew and understood that forgiveness and reconciliation would be acts of superhuman generosity that we could never possibly earn? What if we stopped using social media to position ourselves as One of the Good Ones who has it All Figured Out, showing our orange shirts and reading lists and favourite indigenous artists, and used it instead to show our failures and foibles and what we still struggle with–to grapple with our discomfort and even our shame? What if we let go of all of the stories we have been telling ourselves about our pure hearts and good intentions? What possibilities would we find to grow and be better, if we no longer cared about the shape of the outcome, so long as we stop destroying the land and each other?

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