What does “reconciliation” mean in a Canadian context, for non-Indigenous Canadians and for the Indigenous communities with whom they hope reconcile? Critics and advocates alike acknowledge that the call for “truth and reconciliation” embodies a deeply conflicted bundle of hopes and aspirations. In the ideal, it signals a commitment to right historic wrongs and address structural conditions that perpetuate the injustices of a settler-colonial state. But the goal of building a positive future together is, at best, an empty platitude if it doesn’t translate into clear action. At worst, when Indigenous peoples are called on to “harmonize” their demands for self-governance and territorial control with the sovereignty of the Canadian state, it risks re-entrenching the very inequities it was meant to address.
The panelists will address the difficult question of how to enact reconciliation and, indeed, whether reconciliation is the right framework for making positive change in a Canadian context. Glen Coulthard (Yellowknives Dene) is an incisive critic of the rhetoric of reconciliation when it makes the recognition of injustice an end in itself, an empty gesture that dissociates past harms from present injustices and changes little of substance. Eldon Yellowhorn (Piikani Nation) is engaged in a process of seeking restorative justice for Indigenous communities by locating and repatriating children who died as students in Indian Residential School. And Lucy Allais, a philosopher who hails from South Africa, will provide an analysis of different conceptions of restorative justice informed by an appraisal of the successes and failures of the South African Truth and Reconciliation process.
Glen Coulthard is Yellowknives Dene and an associate professor in the First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program and the Departments of Political Science at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), winner of the 2016 Caribbean Philosophical Association’s Frantz Fanon Award for Outstanding Book, the Canadian Political Science Association’s C.B. Macpherson Award for Best Book in Political Theory in 2014/2015, and the Rik Davidson Studies in Political Economy Award for Best Book in 2016. He is also a co-founder of Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, a decolonial, Indigenous land-based post-secondary program operating on his traditional territories in Denendeh (Northwest Territories).
Eldon Yellowhorn’s Dr. Eldon Yellowhorn is from the Piikani Nation. He received degrees in geography (BSc ‘83) and archaeology (BA ‘86) at the University of Calgary. He attended graduate school at Simon Fraser University, where he studied archaeology (MA ‘93). He completed his student career at McGill University (PhD ‘02). He began is academic career at Simon Fraser University in 2002. He established the Department of First Nations Studies on the Burnaby campus in 2012 and was Chair until 2017. He is a long-time member of the Canadian Archaeological Association and served on its executive committee as President (2010–12). Dr. Yellowhorn is a native speaker of Blackfoot and has worked on preserving the language using modern media such as animation and videography.
Lucy Allais is the Henry Allison Chair of the History of Philosophy at UC-San Diego. She is a well respected Kant scholar who also publishes widely on forgiveness, compassion and punishment, including essays on restorative justice informed by reflection on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She asks, for example, whether retributive justice can be served by restorative processes (Allais 2012) and, in “Wiping the Slate Clean” (2008), interrogates tensions between judgments of moral culpability, understanding, forgiveness, and resentment in the case of unjustifiable, inexcusable wrongdoing.