Nobody said reconciliation would be easy



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What does reconciliation look like? It’s a question that gets asked a lot.

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What does reconciliation look like? It’s a question that gets asked a lot.

Reconciliation is not here yet, but in columns published last week, I tried to show two small examples.

The first piece, published a week ago, was about the removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue from the steps of city hall in Victoria. After entering a dialogue with two local Coast Salish First Nations on how to create a healthy, shared space, the City of Victoria heard that they couldn’t participate meaningfully with an image of Macdonald greeting them every time they arrived.

It’s like asking someone who experienced violence to talk about it while looking at a picture of the person responsible for that violence.

So, the city removed the monument. They didn’t destroy it, they put it into storage.

Many have decried the action. Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna called for a more “thoughtful way” to “address concerns with certain people in our history.”

“You can’t erase history,” McKenna said.

Nothing about this removal “erased” Macdonald from history. For anyone worried about this, I suggest going to any tourist store in Ottawa and buying a Macdonald keychain for a dollar. Or, you could ride a train or read a textbook.

The first prime minister of Canada’s legacy is cemented. We live it every day.

Removing Macdonald’s statue was about fostering a space where people can talk and make some decisions together. It’s not about “sorry” or “revenge” or “denying” anything.

It’s about creating a community.

This is an uncomfortable and imperfect path, but one built by principles of inclusivity, compromise, and empathy.

The real question might be why it took so long for this space of reconciliation to happen.

The second column appeared Tuesday and featured Métis artist Kenneth Lavallee’s Star Blanket mural on the four sides of the Helen Betty Osborne Centre, which is on the campus of the University of Winnipeg. Created to honour murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, the mural is being unveiled Saturday.

The Star Blanket project is evidence of citizens committing themselves to each other. Like the work inside the building – where people can learn a language, develop job skills, or take a class – the outside is adorned by a bright morning star and an image of hope.

This kind of space didn’t exist when I was a student at the University of Winnipeg, and it’s inspiring to see it now. I now wonder how many students, teachers, or professors will be wrapped in this Star Blanket and go on to influence hundreds of thousands throughout Winnipeg, Manitoba, and even Canada.

No one decried the “erasure” of the previous mural on the building, which had become faded and neglected. History wasn’t forgotten and no “sorry” was necessary. The project shows how a university, artists, and citizens are building a space together. It recognizes the achievements of the Helen Betty Osborne Centre, but far more importantly, encourages the hard work there to continue.

The Star Blanket project is about creating a community.

This is an uncomfortable and imperfect path, but one built by principles of inclusivity, compromise, and empathy.

And here, in these two small examples, we see reconciliation in action.

Reconciliation has become a buzz word, a word thrown around often until it loses meaning. It’s become something used to mean everything from pipelines to promises.

So I hesitate to call anything reconciliation. The term brings a lot of messy, heavy baggage.

We’ll call that truth. Multi-layered, often messy, and always complex.

Truth always complicates things. It’s the hard stuff people sometimes feel fearful to share or hear, but it always comes out, eventually.

Reconciliation is the action that comes from truth. It’s the real work.

That’s why treaty acknowledgements are important but how people act as a result of participating in them is what really matters.

This is why it’s vital that workplaces talk about policies such as the Indian Act, but this means nothing unless employees examine how to change their practices and policies as a result.

This is also why Winnipeg can’t claim to be a city about reconciliation unless we include Indigenous peoples into the economic and administrative life of our city. Urban reserves are a start, but not the end of this.

Reconciliation is about the hard work of sharing. It’s about resources, time, space and land. This means commitment to change, in all its complicatedness.

Canada’s not used to this with Indigenous peoples. Taking space has been the Canadian way – and taking without questions.

When Indigenous peoples resist, force is used.

In Macdonald’s time, it was a Gatling gun on civilians. Then, he used treaties to starve people and move them onto unsuitable land. After, he enforced policies that entrenched debilitating legacies of poverty we can see into today.

None of this means Macdonald didn’t do some good things, it’s just he was the architect of a brutal, unrelenting genocide.

The most remarkable thing is that Indigenous peoples are simply asking that his likeness to be set aside when we talk about a future.

Not destroyed, not erased, just set aside so we all can do some real work: the work of community.

To change Canada, we have to change the spaces where we live, work, and grow, the city halls, the centres, the communities. We have to re-create them. Wrap them in hope. Empower them to continue.

We can see this in some spaces; in others, we are still waiting.

But this is what reconciliation looks like.

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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