Can we truly reconcile with those we’ve wronged? Is it in our grasp?

Brief Background on Canada’s TRC:

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s mandate is all about releasing the truth regarding Canadian History, inform Canadians about the atrocities that were committed towards the First Nations people, and form respectful and healing relationships.  Based in Institutional Restorative Justice, it involves a change in national media and school curriculum, as well as monetary and symbolic reparations.  In this blog post I am looking into the combination of this, as well as First Nations traditions and forms of justice and how it will affect the success of our TRC.

Research and Other Attempts at a TRC:

Restorative vs. Retributive Justice:

Restorative Justice is focused on restoring a respectful relationship between the victims and the perpetrators.  Rather than focusing on the needs of the perpetrators punishment-wise, mediated conference between perpetrators and victims is used to come to a satisfactory conclusion for both.  This is a method that is slowly being integrated into our criminal justice system, and a similar method has been used in many other cultures for many many years.

Retributive Justice is focused on punishment of the perpetrator.  This method is widely used in criminal justice systems around the globe, but often doesn’t end with a satisfactory a result for the victim.  There is also a lack of communication, often leaving important truths unsaid.

TRC-wise, Canada is using a restorative justice template.  However, I looked into what would happen if the TRC was forged much sooner after the original offence, and I found that Sierra-Leone used a primarily retributive form of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, they did not consider the fear of backlash the victims faced in coming forward and demanding retributive action, thus not much was done originally to remedy the situation.

Combining this with First Nations practices:

In Canada, one of the First Nations traditions that we have integrated into the TRC is “witnessing”.  Basically, it consists of having specific “witnesses” present at truth-telling ceremonies and events to connect with what is being said personally, and spread the stories they hear within their own circles.  By including something like this, these witnesses are helping others to connect with the truths that are being shared.

This is so so important, as with the media as it is today, we can struggle to make personal connections with people and their struggles.  Instead of having to rely on biased journalism and media to keep up with the progress of truth telling and sharing, we can rely on folks who care about it.

Helen Cromarty, survivor:

“As a residential school survivor, there were things taken away from us that we can never ever get back, doesn’t matter how hard you work at it. I worked hard to get my culture back, my language. I still have to work at it. There are many missing things that I can never ever get back, but having the government apologize and acknowledge the damage that has been done, I feel a little reprieve. I can live with it and I think that’s another step forward. Why not keep going? The path is there now, follow it. …I left home when I was five years old, so the family bonding that all of you get when you’re a child, in those formative years, I don’t have that. But I somehow learned that, after having five children I worked hard at bonding.”


Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Ontario Native Women’s Association:

“Reconciliation means more than just the restoration of our relationship. Our women, our people, have unaddressed grief, intergenerational trauma, as the residential schools severed the most important bond, that bond between indigenous children and their mothers and their families. This system exposed our children to a cycle of violence that continues today, but we know that violence is a learned behaviour and therefore we also know that we can unlearn this behaviour. We can make a change.”


I’ve still got a lot of questions and I hope to learn more in reading the first chapter of the TRC next week.  Like who is mediating the discussion of Justice between government and churches, and the First Nations People?  As well, in order for restorative justice to work it has been found that both sides must see each other as equals.  I’d be interested in hearing some people who have a very different stance on the issue of reconciliation.  Finally, how are they going about reconciling if the government is nigh partially the perpetrator and the dispenser of justice?  I feel that understanding the roots of what we are trying to achieve and all the different viewpoints on it is super important if we are to succeed.

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