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Reflections on Reconciliation: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Updated: Nov 13, 2021

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Yesterday we discussed the Supreme Court of Canada’s definition of reconciliation. Today, we will explore how the Truth and Reconciliation Commission defines reconciliation, and consider how the two differentiate.

But first, stop for a moment and consider what reconciliation means to you. Is it an adjective, verb or noun?

To think about reconciliation as a verb, what would that entail? Is reconciliation a specific action at one point in time? Or perhaps a set of actions that must be engaged over time? What would those actions be? Or are actions a necessary foundation to build a future state of reconciliation?

If you consider reconciliation to be an adjective, what does it mean to be in a state of reconciliation? For some, reconciliation is the re-establishment of a conciliatory state.[1] But what if that conciliatory state never existed in the first place? How can reconciliation be RE-conciliatory?

Lastly, do you consider reconciliation to be a noun? If so, does that mean reconciliation is the act of making one belief compatible with another? Or is it the restoration of friendly relationships?

The reason so many people struggle with how to define reconciliation is because for every person, community, institution and organization, there is a different meaning for the word.[2] Yesterday ReconciliACTION YEG discussed the Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) definition, and while the SCC offers a legal path towards reconciliation,[3] the TRC defines reconciliation slightly differently, as overcoming conflict and establishing healthy relationships.[4] The SCC and TRC’s definitions share two common threads: reconciliation is about acknowledging the past and nurturing relationships. However, they diverge in their definition because the SCC does not explicitly state that "truth" is an essential aspect of reconciliation.

While the TRC calls on governments, institutions, and citizens to repair these damaged relationships through reparations, apologies, and concrete actions,[5] failure to meaningfully implement the majority of the TRC’s calls to action, is a failure to lead Canadians into respectful relationships with Indigenous communities.

For many Indigenous communities, there are no translations for the word reconciliation.[6] It simply does not exist. Instead, Indigenous communities have legal traditions and laws which have served their communities for centuries in maintaining respectful relationships. For example, during the 1764 Treaty of Niagara a wampum belt was a tangible representation of the relationship established between the British and Indigenous nations in the area.[7] This is an example of how Indigenous communities used sacred items to ‘establish relationships, repair conflicts, restore harmony and make peace’[8] with others.

Understanding that reconciliation means something different to each individual and organization, ask yourself dear reader, how do we, as citizens of Turtle Island engage in reconciliation with Indigenous communities?

Until next time,

Team ReconciliACTION YEG

Artist Tracey Metallic-Barraby's "New Beginnings"

[1] Canada’s residential schools: the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, vol. 6 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015) at 3 [TRC vol. 6].

[2] Ibid at 11.

[3] See R v Desautel, 2021 SCC 17 at para 30. “One that "looks back to [the] historic impact" of the Crown's assertion of sovereignty and "looks forward to ... an ongoing, mutually respectful long-term relationship".

[4] See TRC vol.6 at 3. "Coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people, going forward.”

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid at 12.

[7] Canada’s First Peoples. (2007). Treaties & Change: British Relations with First Peoples after 1763. The Pontiac Rebellions. Retrieved from:

[8] Supra note 1.

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