By Assistant Professor Kahente Horn-Miller, School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies
Photos by Chris Roussakis


As Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples sharing the land we call Turtle Island, we are tasked with meeting head on the important challenge put before us by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) 2015. In a talk given by Senator Murray Sinclair on October 3, 2016, at Carleton University, he challenged us to begin reshaping the relationship between our peoples. This challenge requires us to work collectively as peoples of many different nations, races, and beliefs to change the foundations set by the forefathers of the country we called Kanata. A foundation that was based on the misguided notion that the original inhabitants of this land, the Indigenous peoples, were inferior and needed to be civilized and assimilated into a belief system and way of living that was foreign. It completely disregarded our traditions, cultures, languages, and ways of being that had served us well for millennia.

In the words of Senator Murray Sinclair, “getting to the truth was hard, but getting to reconciliation will be harder.” As I listened to Sinclair speak with eloquence, honesty, and humility I thought about what the work of the Commission really meant. Canada has been challenged to rethink its relationship with Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation is now the buzzword, and I often hear that we are in an era of reconciliation. Let’s rethink that for a second. What does reconciliation mean? The word reconciliation contains the word conciliation. Simply, it is “the action of bringing into harmony” or going from “a state of hostility or distrust to a peaceable or friendly union.” Reconciliation then references the repair of a previously existing harmonious relationship. But this term has been problematic and prevented many Indigenous peoples from accepting it. Why is this? Because the pre-existing relationship between the Indigenous populations of this continent and the Europeans that came here was not a harmonious one. It was fraught with tension, bloodshed, ignorance of our ways, and ultimately the genocide of many of our peoples. So then, we have to ask—how must we begin this long journey?

We need to figure out how to bring balance back into this relationship called Canada.

– Senator Murray Sinclair

This FASS event was an example of conciliation in action. Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair was invited on stage by her husband to speak of the TRC process and its impact on her family. She discussed how Senator Sinclair found balance and harmony as he headed the Comission, but also of the hardship and impact on his health. The family required patience while they supported him as he worked to bring balance back into this relationship we call Canada.

In the larger context then, conciliation also requires that the paternalistic and racist foundations of the residen- tial school system be rejected as the basis for this ongoing relationship. Sinclair reminded us that this journey is also about hardship, patience and love. Conciliation must develop a new vision based on a commitment of mutual respect. As Sinclair tells us, (re)conciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. In his talk, Sinclair outlined four questions that served as the foundation for the 94 Calls To Action found in the final Recommendations:

  1. Where do I come from?
  2. Where am I going
  3. What is my purpose?
  4. Who am I?
Prof. Horn-Miller, Dean Clement, Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair, and Senator Sinclair share a pre-lecture laugh.

Prof. Horn-Miller, Dean Clement, Katherine Morrisseau-Sinclair, and Senator Sinclair share a pre-lecture laugh.

These are the four foundational questions which we must all consider as we look towards the future. Canadians and Indigenous peoples have to ask where do I come from? Here? What is the culture and history that I come out of? Is it harmful? Is it beautiful? Is it something I can change? Is it something that needs
to change? What is the direction I am going to take? It is a question of agency and accountability here. What is my purpose in this journey forward? Am I an active participant? The final question is the most crucial, as it asks us to critically engage our- selves and reflect on who we are and who we want to be. Sinclair reinforced that each and every Canadian has to look at themselves and rethink their part in this relationship. This is a powerful statement and is, at its core, about accountability.

With that in mind and inspired by the work of the TRC, the University is rethinking its amphitheatre space on campus, to make it a setting appropriate for this kind of work. The Indigenous Learning Place is currently consulting with the Carleton University community, Indigenous organizations in Ottawa and the Algonquins of Kitigan Zibi and Pikwàkanagàn. We hope to have it completed by Fall 2018 with a new Algonquin name.

Full house to take in lecture.

Full house to take in lecture.

That evening the audience felt it had evolved as human beings through the impactful words of Senator Sinclair and Morrisseau-Sinclair. The Senator’s Commission intends to give voice to the survivors of residential schools. Previously this seemed to many only a dream in the clouds. Appropriately, his Ojibway name, Mizanay Gheezhik, means ‘the One Who Speaks of Pictures in the Sky.’ Senator Sinclair is helping make this dream a reality.

Nia:wen kowa, I thank you. We thank you.

Smudging ceremony before Senator Sinclair’s talk.

Smudging ceremony before Senator Sinclair’s talk.