"Reconciliation: Past, Present and Future"

Opening remarks delivered as panel moderator for "Reconciliation: Past Present and Future" hosted by Groundswell: 

Good evening everyone, and thank you for joining us here this evening for Reconciliation: Past, Present, and Future. I want to thank Chief Janice George for the powerful welcome and for grounding us in this space together.

I want to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered here this evening as guests upon the unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueum peoples. I want to pay my respect to their Elders both past and present, and express my sincere gratitude for our ability to gather tonight in such a beautiful place.

I would also like to recognize the courage and resiliency of Survivors and their families. It was through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, not the federal government, that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission emerged, a selfless act that has served as the foundation for the types of conversations we will be having this evening.

Lastly, I wish to send love and strength to the families of the well over 1,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in this country. We continue to live in a country that fails to provide all women with respect, dignity and safety, with Indigenous women disproportionately impacted by violence and abuse. To the men assembled here tonight – we have a role and responsibility to ensure that this cycle is broken.

We are gathered here this evening at a time in which the future of this country and the role of reconciliation within it is increasingly upon the minds of Canadians. With the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report in 2015, this country has been confronted with painful truths about its history and its identity, questions that have taken on new urgency this year - at this 150th anniversary of confederation, we must recognize that there is still incredible work to be done to heal, to redress, to revitalize and in some cases, to resist.

These developments have accelerated ongoing efforts and energies that have come to be defined as acts of reconciliation – from pipeline protests to political speeches, the presence of reconciliation in our popular discourse continues to increase. For many, this has led to more questions than answers. What is reconciliation? What does it look like, what does it involve, and how will we know if we are in meaningful pursuit of its highest ideals?

For those new to the space, the word reconciliation can be particularly daunting, especially for allies working to establish where they can most meaningfully contribute to its true advancement. For those already active in spaces and conversations centered around reconciliation, the term’s nebulous nature can be frustrating, coming to mean everything and nothing in regards to our aspirations for our shared future upon these territories.

So much complexity is entangled around the term, because we are working to address one of the most multi-faceted, intergenerational and intensely personal issues of our time. If reconciliation as a term and as a movement can feel at times overwhelming, it is due to the depth and scope of the work that lies before us. For reconciliation is more than carefully constructed statements delivered in the House of Commons, or a territorial acknowledgement delivered as a formality at the start of an event. True reconciliation involves reimagining longstanding institutions and policies, but more importantly than that, it involves reimagining our relationships with one another and to Mother Earth. We live in turbulent and uncertain times, and it is in these moments that a recognition of our shared humanity and common purpose must prevail over all the toxic “isms” of racism, sexism and colonialism that continually seek to divide us as people.

And so, while the term itself may be contested, complicated and at times unclear, two truths remain certain – the urgency of this work and the role each of us gathered here together this evening have to play in seeing its true and full advancement.

This work is urgent in part because it is ongoing. As we gather here tonight, the lives and trajectories of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada differ sharply in ways that defy justification or excuse, as they are based not upon merit or worth but upon antiquated perceptions rooted in colonialism from the time of this country’s creation. Reconciliation is thus not only about reckoning with our shared history, but with the here and now and the ongoing disparities that exist within this country. In a country that ranks 10th on the world’s Human Development Index, no citizen should go without access to clean drinking water, yet there are currently 147 boil water advisories in First Nations communities. In a country whose GDP is $1.53 trillion, no child should live in poverty, yet Minister Philpott declared last month the disproportionate number of Indigenous children currently in the child welfare system a "humanitarian crisis”. We can and we must do better.

And doing better will require the passion, commitment and energy of all those assembled here tonight. Assembled in the room are young leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, creatives and knowledge holders… and that is just who is joining me on stage. What is your gift? What is your strength? And how can you be part of this transformative change?

I look forward to exploring these ideas with you this evening, and am humbled to be joined by an incredible group of individuals active in exploring reconciliation and its meaningful advancement. I will provide brief introductions to each of them as they come forward to share their stories and their bold ideas for reconciliation.

Alexander Dirksen