Finding reconciliation and legitimacy in Canada

The story of reconciliation in Canada between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is a story that needs to be told far and wide. It is an incomplete story that is still being written. It is a story of systemic repression and an unsuccessful cultural genocide perpetuated over decades. This story is messy and painful. But there is no viewer discretion advisory. This story needs to cauterised. In every public school in Canada, every Indigenous and non-Indigenous person in Canada should learn about the atrocities Indigenous people have experienced so we can ensure it stops, and is never repeated.

In knowing our past, we can build a future that recognizes and moves past the wrongs we have lived with for so many years. (For a recap of the current context in Canada, read this piece by Allan Clarke.)

How do we get from where we are now to a place of true reconciliation? On November 29, a group of 20 young Indigenous Canadians came together to talk about legitimacy as a path to reconciliation using an unconference format. I had the very good fortune to spend the day with this group.

Why the unconference format? Because to achieve reconciliation with First Nations in Canada, the process has to have legitimacy for them. The unconference format gives power to the participants: they choose the topics and themes for the day.

There is no easy way to summarize the many important ideas that this impressive group shared during the unconference. In the coming weeks, the Public Policy Forum will be charged with the difficult task of weaving all of these ideas into a discussion paper, without losing the integrity with which they were delivered. In the meantime, here are just a few of the ideas that will keep us going:

  • True reconciliation will not happen within the parameters of a Westminster system where the Crown continues to hold all the power and First Nations people have none. True reconciliation will require a total restart; recognizing the very different governance systems of all First Nations, not just the one imposed upon them.
  • Legitimate reconciliation will require investments to revitalize and restore First Nations culture and language, and the systemic education of all people in Canada about the abuse First Nations people have suffered as a result of colonization.
  • True reconciliation will require investment in personal relationships between individuals as well as relationships between communities of people.
  • A legitimate process to reconciliation should reflect the wisdom and feeling of all ages. First Nations people believe in the wisdom that children offer, and think not only of their own generation, but of the generations before them and those yet to come. Reconciliation is not just for the voices in the conversation today. It is about history and the future.

On a personal note, I left the conference with a deep sense of accountability to continue this discussion in other parts of Canada with more young Indigenous people. We have so much work to do together before we can achieve true reconciliation. I can’t wait.


CPI will be publishing a paper on how governments can start to build legitimacy in the New Year. Our thanks to the Public Policy Forum of Canada and the young people who gathered at the First Nations University on 29 November.