Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Recognition, Redistribution, and Representation: Assessing the Transformative Potential of Reparations for the Indian Residential Schools Experience

Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Recognition, Redistribution, and Representation: Assessing the Transformative Potential of Reparations for the Indian Residential Schools Experience

Article excerpt

Introduction

Through treaty settlements reached with Indigenous[2] nations beginning in the 1800s, the government of Canada was invested with responsibility for the education of Indigenous children. Therefore, policies related to the education of Status Indians fell under the jurisdiction of the federal government and these policies were later expressed in the establishment of the Indian residential school (IRS) system (Episkenew 2009). During the residential school era, approximately from the 1830s to the 1990s, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit children, along with their relatives and communities, suffered wrongs committed against them by the Canadian government and churches. These wrongs include but are not limited to: widespread sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse; bullying (student-on-student abuse); the aggressive assimilation of Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture; substandard living conditions at IRS; and neglect resulting in death and disease (Milloy 1999). Various attempts at reconciliation, such as the 1998 Statement of Reconciliation, the Alternative Dispute Resolution Program, the Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA 2006), and the 2008 Statement of Apology, have been introduced to redress the IRS experience and acknowledge the harm done. The heretofore lack of conflict resolution success demonstrates the complexity and seriousness of the legacy of IRS, as well as the inadequacy of the previous processes to heal the resulting damage.

In the context of IRS reparations, of particular interest are the 1998 Statement of Reconciliation and the corresponding 1998 Gathering Strength report on the one hand, and the 2008 Statement of Apology and the IRSSA on the other. These are the primary focus of this paper because they embody the federal government's responses that, with varying success, have been directed at resolving the former IRS students' calls for reparations and could also be considered the major milestones in the history of IRS legal battles. By critically evaluating these responses, this paper seeks to assess their ability to address the issues that are at the genesis of the Indigenous-settler colonial state relations in the post-IRS era. More precisely, the question that I pose here is, "Do these mechanisms of redress have the potential to challenge and destabilize the foundations of colonialism?"

Scholars such as Taiaiake Alfred (1999; 2005; 2009), Matt James (2008), and Paulette Regan (2010) draw connections and critically evaluate the intersections between state-issued reparations such as apologies, monetary compensation schemes for historical injustices, and decolonization. Chrisjohn, Young, and Maraun (2006), for example, note that in order to right a historical wrong like IRS, a complete acknowledgement and recognition of the harm done must occur. Others advance that apologies must be coupled with monetary compensation or any appropriate type of reparations in order to be considered meaningful or risk being disregarded as empty words (see, for example, Corntassel and Holder 2008). Furthermore, Corntassel, Chaw-win-is, and T'lakwadzi (2009) observe that colonial injustices, such as IRS, are often intertwined and interrelated with other injustices, which must be resolved collectively. They go on to argue that in Canada, the IRS experience is often treated in isolation and separate from the issue of land and therefore "ignor[es] the fact that the issues [IRS] survivors[3] contend with from the residential school era are rooted in the forced removal of entire families and communities from their homelands" (p.8).

Political theorist and philosopher Nancy Fraser suggests that in order to resolve systemic wrongs like colonialism, a theory of justice must first conceptualize them as unjust (Nelund 2011). As such, comprehensive and holistic remedies are required not only for symptoms of systemic injustices such as the IRS system, but they must also address the deeper structural and institutional causes of these injustices. …

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