A Fragmented Reconciliation Process?

July 9, 2009

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada continues to face obstacles. Delayed by one year, the Commission has now re-formed with three new Commissioners. The most recent debate involves the distinct groups that will be given voice through the Commission. In a recent Globe and Mail piece, Peter Irniq writes that the Inuit experience will not be adequately represented by the Commission. He calls for a separate Inuit TRC that will deal specifically with the Inuit experience in the Indian Residential School system, and writes that “The failure to appoint an Inuk to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a national disgrace.”

In a response piece a few days later, Bob Weber points out that there are Inuit members on the ten person panel that will advise the commission.  The commission was not appointed through the Prime Minister’s office, as suggested by Mr. Irniq, but through an independent selection committee that included representatives from many of the stakeholders involved in the reconciliation process, including Mary Simon, head of the national Inuit group Inuit Tapirisat Kanatami. He also mentions that Mr. Irniq has actively started to raise support for a boycott of the commission.

Although I understand Mr. Irniq’s concerns that the Inuit experience will be marginalized in the national process of reconciliation, I don’t think that a separate Inuit TRC would solve this problem. The IRS TRC already fragments Aboriginal peoples experiences with assimilationist polices in Canada by focusing exclusively on the legacies of the IRS system. Further fragmentation will not promote reconciliation. Mr. Irniq’s concerns are valid, I just wonder if there isn’t a different way to approach this problem.

For example, I posted a few weeks ago on an exhibit at the National Archives in Ottawa, which focuses specifically on the Inuit experiences at the schools.  The exhibit included testimonies from Inuit survivors of the schools. Some were in English, others were in Inuktitut, and the posters on the walls had translations available in French, English and Inuktitut. It’s important to recognize that cultural production of memory (through art, museum spaces, monuments, film etc.), and not just those discourses produced through commissions, play a vital role in raising awareness about this history, and can provide an outlet for survivors who prefer not to give testimonies to a commission linked with the state (even tangentially). It is also important not to get side-tracked by a focus on the three commissioners, especially since the commission will involve a large support staff including translators, administrators and counsellors from diverse communities.

The title for this post is “A Fragmented Reconciliation Process?” but perhaps this is misleading. All processes of reconciliation are fragmented, and in part it is through this fragmentation that questions are asked and dialogue is begun. The balance between fragmentation and a unified whole (however illusionary) is at the heart of these national processes of reconciliation.

To read Peter Irniq’s piece in the Globe and Mail, click here.  For an article about these issues on CBC.ca, click here.

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