The Sunday Edition

What are we really talking about when we talk about reconciliation?

Politicians say they're committed to it, indigenous leaders and activists demand it, and Canadians hope for it. But what exactly do we all mean by reconciliation? And how will we know when — and if — we've achieved it? Michael’s guests are: Cindy Blackstock, the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society; Cheryl Ward, Executive Director of Indigenous Cultural Safety and Strategy with BC' Provincial Health Authority; and Cowboy Smithx, a filmmaker and founder of the Elk Shadows Performing Arts Clan and the Noirfoot School For Cinematic Art.
The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright spoke to Cheryl Ward, Cindy Blackstock and Cowboy Smithx about reconciliation four years on from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report. (Courtesy of Cheryl Ward/courtesy of Cindy Blackstock/courtesy of Cowboy Smithx)
Listen31:03

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report four years ago Justice Murray Sinclair warned that  "Canada must move from apology to action." 

He said, "this is a Canadian story, not an Indigenous one." The report said "reconciliation will require more than pious words about the shortcomings of those who preceded us." 

The report set out 94 calls to action: a roadmap for change. Justin Trudeau and his government promised to act on every one. 

In 2017 his government declared that this would happen "through a renewed nation-to-nation, Inuit-to-crown and government-to-government relationship based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership."

But what is reconciliation anyway? Does it create transformative change, or is it a feel-good catchphrase used to make us feel virtuous but not requiring much more? And do Indigenous people even agree on what it means?

Cindy Blackstock is the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society. (Courtesy of Cindy Blackstock)

Cindy Blackstock has been described as Canada's relentless moral voice for First Nations equality. She is a member of the Gitxsan First Nation First Nation in northern British Columbia. She is also the executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and a professor at the school of social work at McGill University. 

"There is no comprehensive plan by the federal government to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission … They say it's complex, but they negotiated a trade agreement with Trump and that is complex. If they can accomplish that, they can end inequality for first nations children and their families," she told Enright. 

Cheryl Ward is the executive director of Indigenous Cultural Safety and Strategy with BC Provincial Health Authority. (Courtesy of Cheryl Ward )

Cheryl Ward is Kwakwaka'wakw and member of the 'Namgis First Nation First Nation on coastal British Columbia. She's executive director of Indigenous Cultural Safety and Strategy with the B.C. provincial health authority. For 30 years she has worked in the justice, child welfare, education and health sectors. In 2008 she helped found the San'yas Indigenous Cultural Safety Training programme, which more than 95,000 health professionals across the country have completed. 

"On whose shoulders does this rest, the idea of reconciliation? It seems like we as Indigenous people carry a very large burden here and what I would like to see, and to see this reflected in the election, is, how do we share that, is this a shared responsibility? And if so, then what's our piece in this and what is the piece for settlers and immigrants?" she said.

Cowboy Smithx is a filmmaker and founder of the Elk Shadows Performing Arts Clan and the Noirfoot School For Cinematic Art. (Courtesy of Cowboy Smithx )

Cowboy Smithx is a filmmaker of is a Blackfoot filmmaker from the Piikani Nation and Kainai Nation in Southern Alberta. In 2015, he founded REDx Talks, an Indigenous speakers series modelled after TED Talks. He is also the artistic director for the Iiniistsi Treaty Arts Society, and runs a travelling film school called Noirfoot Narrative Labs. 

"I think the machine of colonization chews people up — regardless of where you're from or your cultural background — and spits them out," he said. 

The panel spoke to The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright about the weight of the past as well as what Canada can do in efforts towards reconciliation going forward. 

The panellists' comments have been edited for length and clarity. Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.