Prior to this gathering, I was not optimistic about the social engineering called Truth and Reconciliation. When first asked to work in this area more than five years ago by Jonathan Dewar, I rejected the idea. Even before seeing the testimony process firsthand, I felt that the principles of the formal TRC project continue the colonial enterprise. Individual payouts for personal testimony – rather than nation-to-nation settlements – are designed to bypass Treaty relationships, to divide and conquer. While the aggressive assimilation spearheaded by Indian Residential Schools targeted children, it was designed to ruin communities, past, present, future. The money, and the public raking up of this pain, has caused a great deal of (mostly unreported) devastation to individuals, families, and communities. I remain convinced that the official Truth and Reconciliation is primarily a non-Indigenous project designed to reconcile settlers with their dark history in order that they might live in this territory more comfortably and exploit these lands more thoroughly.
“Re-conciliation” assumes that Indigenous people and settlers once had a conciliatory relationship; that all is needed is Indigenous absolution for harmony to be restored. But there is no halcyon moment to recover, only the on-going colonial condition to become conscious of and resist. This cannot occur in the TRC bubble of structured empathy, where the pressure on survivors to forgive is enormous. The first line of the TRC’s official mandate reads: “There is an emerging and compelling desire to put the events of the past behind us so that we can work towards a stronger and healthier future” (“Establishment”). Whose compelling desire? The cruelty of this construction is that it places the onus on survivors of these internment institutions to forgive both their absent abusers and the abstract state. Following the familiar colonial script, these people are narrated as obstacles that must be overcome if we are to move forwards “towards a stronger and healthier future.” The TRC’s emotionalist structure negates resistance, reason, and discourse. The TRC is a pain generator, a testimony and tear-stained tissue collector. The federal focus on Indian Residential Schools is an effort to personalize, cauterize, and distract notice away from larger issues. It aims to direct attention to the display of individual Indigenous suffering bodies, rather than the collective wholes that were betrayed. It attempts to pay off and/or “heal” these folks rather than negotiate with their nations. And it is designed to distract both Indigenous and non-Indigenous folks from larger ongoing issues of Canadian colonization and land (ab)use.
- David Garneau
This quote is taken from the remarkable collection The Land We Are: Artists and Writers Unsettle the Politics of Reconciliation