Photo by Silhouette Archives
By: Evan Jamieson Eckel
I‘m frustrated with what people within this institution have tried to pass off as “reconciliation”. From flying the Hiawatha belt flag for one day, to the implementation of our land acknowledgement that has become so scripted it is rendered meaningless, it seems that Mac’s officials love to find any reason to pat themselves on the back and call it reconciliation. This is all frustrating because none of it assists in meaningful reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a hot buzzword in 2019, but like the word decolonize and the phrase nation-to-nation, this word has lost most of its meaning. Reconciliation is about Canada providing redress for genocide. This isn’t just some word to describe two parties getting over a dispute – it’s about resolving a shared history in which one nation tried to eliminate the others. Real reconciliation would involve breaking down systemic barriers that have oppressed Indigenous Peoples and/or providing financial compensation to overcome the disparities faced by our communities. After exploiting Indigenous communities for years, Canada is severely indebted to Indigenous Peoples.
So why then are all these attempts at reconciliation so pathetic?
It’s because adequate redress is too uncomfortable for people to address. It reveals that we all are complicit in the maintenance of settler colonialism, the structure that oppresses Indigenous People in Canada to this day. It’s a tough pill to swallow, so this is the only Canadian thing I will do in this article – provide a half-assed apology like it’s 2008. Sorry.
That being said, you still need to understand how frustrating and disrespectful McMaster University has been with its reconciliation. In the January 13th, 2018 issue of the Hamilton Spectator, president Patrick Deane told the Spectator that McMaster had discussed mandatory Indigenous Studies courses and decided that forcing mandatory courses the wrong way to educate students. We need these classes to be mandatory because students who are blatantly racist against Indigenous people will never take these courses, and their opinions need to be challenged. Forcing people to confront their prejudices is what is needed to create meaningful change – putting in a few token Indigenous people into positions of power and installing an outdoor classroom will not get the job done.
Meanwhile, I had worked alongside other students to collect signatures supporting mandatory Indigenous Studies courses at Mac. We even got Mac’s Indigenous Education Council to support us. We gathered 474 signatures online and over 200 from Six Nations. It was by no means a definitive representation of our communities, but it was a hell of a lot more than the handful of people consulted by Deane and the Spec. Also, it was unfortunate that Deane forgot to mention the petition in his interview after we had delivered the signatures directly into his hands.
A convenient memory lapse, I’m sure.
Sarcastic comments aside, this specific situation is reflective of most of the other examples of reconciliation at Mac. Leaders within the institution are eager to check off that reconciliation box to look good and pad their resumes in the process. On the Indigenous side of things, the same few individuals seem to take all of the tokenistic opportunities available to them to speak on behalf of Indigenous students here when they should be helping their own communities and giving other Indigenous students the opportunity to become leaders themselves. This warped take on reconciliation is not just embraced by non-Indigenous people at Mac – it’s also welcomed by narcissistic Indigenous People here. Like they say, power corrupts all.
I am not asking you to consider what I have written simply because I identify as Indigenous – that is and has never been a valid reason to speak over and for all of us, or to present ourselves as an infallible source of information. I am asking you to consider my words as they are influenced by the work I have done in my community and at Mac throughout the past six years I have been an undergrad working towards my honours degree. It just also happens to be that I am Kanienkeha:ka.
Residential school survivors I’ve worked with have a saying: truth comes before reconciliation. The truth at Mac is that Indigenous People and issues are exploited by the institution, while Indigenous People themselves engage in lateral violence to fight for power within that system. This is the stuff that is being enabled when we settle for what is being passed off as reconciliation on our campus, and the truth is that it is a shitshow.