02 November 2020

The hard truth of reconciliation #nlpoli

Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images
Reconciliation is a very popular word these days.

It comes out of the  commission appointed to investigate what happened to Indigenous people in Canada in residential schools run by the federal government.  The commission produced a lengthy list of actions needed to “advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

Leave aside the 94 specific actions the commission recommended.  There are really three key things that must form the basis of successful reconciliation.

The first is a willingness of the people involved to come to a mutual understanding.  Explicitly, they are going to be involved in something doesn’t just happen instantly.  It will take time. The people involved in reconciliation will need must *want* to reconcile if it is going to be successful.

The second is a desire to find truth.  That’s conveniently mentioned in the name of the commission:  truth and reconciliation.  But it is also important for people interested in reconciliation to come with the understanding that the truth to be found isn’t going to sit wholly on one side or the other. 

Third, reconciliation is going to take discussion.  Dialogue.  Communication.

On all three of those counts, events in Newfoundland and Labrador over the past few months have shown just how far we are – collectively -  from starting successful reconciliation.

Let’s start with the bright spot.  Both the groups representing Indigenous people and the provincial government seem interested in improving the relationships between and among them. They *say* they want to improve relations so let’s take that as a positive sign.

The same cannot be said of the other two elements.

For starters, the truth that what the Truth and Reconciliation commission investigated and what happened in Newfoundland and Labrador are two very different things.  They are very different because relations between Indigenous people and Europeans were different in Newfoundland and Labrador from the experiences in everything west of here. 

There are some broad similarities, but in Newfoundland and Labrador, there are some important differences.  That history must be understood since the current situation came out of the past situations. And if we cannot get that history told fully and honestly, then we are off to a rocky start.

Take residential schools as an example.  In Newfoundland and Labrador, residential schools were not organized or operated exclusively for “Indians” with the purpose of assimilating the children into non-Indigenous culture. What we have been hearing in the news media recently and what came out of the local court settlement presents a fundamentally false version of what took place in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

As for dialogue, the accusations aimed at Perry Trimper are a good example of how people are not interested in discussion.  In both the first and second episodes, no one dealt with what Trimper actually said.  Instead, they dealt with what some people accused of him saying and that those assumptions made him a racist.

No one was interested in listening, which is an essential part of dialogue. No one asked questions, except to wonder why Trimper wasn’t already dangling from the end of a rope, figuratively at least. People were interested only in accusing, harming, and silencing. That is true of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.  The Telegram offered two excellent examples of rushing to judgment, complete with misinformation:  Pam Frampton and Martha Muzychka.  It’s hard not to see both column as examples both of the Telegram’s internal culture - but also the authoritarian, and in many respects fundamentally anti-democratic political culture prevalent in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The hard truth is that reconciliation worthy of the name is not possible in a political culture that deliberately avoids dialogue, that suppresses dissent, and that rushes to judgment.