Decolonial Discourse: The Walk for Reconciliation

We can walk to reconcile, but can we make the distance to find the truth?

Mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, and Karen Joseph, CEO of Reconciliation Canada. In 2013, Vancouver became the first city in Canada to be a city of Reconciliation, and the world is currently watching Vancouver, Mayor Robertson said. (Ashley Hyshka)

Reconciliation has been talked about a lot in Canada lately, but are institutionally organized public events enough to restore what’s been taken from Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island through the Indian Residential School system?

At the Walk for Reconciliation on Sept. 24, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson announced that Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh and Squamish flags would hang in Vancouver City Council chambers, and that the route taken in the Walk and the Vancouver Art Gallery would be retitled to have a relevant Indigenous name.

The different levels of government endorse marches and name-changes, performances and apologies, but where is the reparation and repatriation of what has been taken?

Over 50,000 people gathered at the event to march from Queen Elizabeth Plaza to Strathcona Park via the Georgia Viaduct. At the park, a Reconciliation Expo was held with many speakers including Robertson and Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould. As Emilee Gilpin of The Tyee reports, “It was a walk in the park, literally.”

Raybould gave a speech largely about the government’s role in reconciliation through vague acknowledgments of colonization. Back in 2015, she proudly announced that the government would be adopting the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The next year, she called the Declaration unworkable into Canadian law and said it was already covered under Section 35 of the Constitution. There is little integrity to the words Raybould speaks of reconciliation.

As for Robertson, why is hanging the flags of the Indigenous Nations that his city government displaces enough? How about ceding authority of Vancouver back to Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, and Squamish instead? That way, the three Nations could have their say in what kind of governance is enacted from the room that their flags hang in. A symbolic, token measure by the mayor’s office like this comes with little commitment and no measures of actual, tangible change.

The “initiatives” from Robertson and others are a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of 2014, which, when I first saw it, seemed like it would change everything for Indigenous people in Canada. Since then I’ve been proven sorely naïve.

From watching the Conservative government destroy evidence of the harm of residential schools and prevent investigations into the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls to the empty discourse about reconciliation that always seems to forget the truth, it’s hard to see a proper reconciliation happening. In the history books, this will look like a turning point for Canada’s colonial past, while 150 years of that genocidal past is celebrated.

Instead of true reconciliation, the efforts of the mayor and his government turn out to be just another notch of erasure and assimilation, or “Reconsimilation.” We will have to mark down our own story throughout this time. Our modern-day story of resistance includes fighting for our lands and title against resource extraction giants like TransMountain (Kinder Morgan) pipelines, Imperial Metals mining at Mount Polley, and transnational fish farm companies destroying wild salmon stock. It also includes doing our best to care for our own, like the some 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, or those disproportionately living and dying on the streets in Vancouver without adequate social housing or health resources to deal with the opioid and addiction crisis.

And this barely scratches the surface of the struggles our peoples persevere through today, along with the proud triumphs and resurgence we still achieve. We claim them through our own work, our own activism, our own great strides. Until the government unconditionally support this work and give back what they’ve taken, reconciliation can’t happen. It doesn’t matter how many thousands manage to walk two kilometres.

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