Reconciliation – 3 Keys to Understanding

I was having coffee with a friend at a socially-distanced cafe when we overheard a conversation on politics and elections at another table. Given the pending elections and current news in Nova Scotia about violence and racism in the lobster industry, it was not surprising to overhear discussions about these topics.

The comment we overheard was, “We need to stop with all of the apologies for things that happened 200 years ago – everyone needs to just get over it.” While they didn’t explicitly say they were speaking about Indigenous peoples, the reference to the timeframe suggested this was the subject.

Naturally, I did not say anything to this comment, however, my friend and I did talk about some of the challenges on that thinking – what about land claims and breaches of treaty? This comment and the thinking or experiences underneath it could be unpacked for hours and days. The topic compels discomfort and frustration for many people. Not stating that the apologies they were discussing were about Indigenous peoples also suggests a degree of discomfort. Regardless of the topic, the core of the statement draws us to the absence of knowledge about our shared Canadian history.

Although you may think you already know about what I’m talking about, I encourage you to continue reading because we all have a role to play in working towards never hearing “just get over it” in any conversation. Consider when you are supporting someone who has been abused – you would never say “just get over it,” even if 50 years had passed since the abuse. Instead, you would listen to understand what happened and know without question the degree of harm that was caused.

We are in a period of reflection and reconciliation must lead to substantive change – and become a way of life.

The third principle of reconciliation states, “Reconciliation is a process of healing of relationships that requires public truth sharing, apology, and commemoration that acknowledge and redress past harms.” We are in a period of reflection and reconciliation must lead to substantive change – and become a way of life. Here are some key considerations about apologies and your role towards creating substantive change today and every day:

1. Understanding

The core of an apology holds significant meaning. We can all recall saying sorry as children, perhaps to a sibling because of a fight or to a friend for a mishap during a playdate. Saying sorry held meaning for hurting someone else and it was critical for our own understanding and learning as young people. Our parents or teachers wanted us to learn and remember – to develop an understanding of what occurred. Our caregivers knew the significance of this learning and feared who we might become if we did not know how to apologize and understand the harm we caused. As parents, we all know that if our own children do not understand why they apologized, they may do that same action again.

The way we understand apology varies culturally. I try my best to relearn how to walk in balance with “Nehiyaw oma niya,” which means I am Cree. In the Cree language there is no word for apology that holds the same meaning as it does in English. My Cree language teacher, Bill Cook, shared the following: “That word or that concept, apology, to me as a Cree language speaker, doesn’t mean anything.” He went on to explain that it was because anything that required an apology, he would not do. This fits with my understanding of Cree teachings and values – an apology is a colonial concept.

2. History

At the root of understanding is examining what we know and being comfortable accepting what we do not know. In school you probably learned about how North America was settled and colonized by Europeans. Absent in the history lesson was a fulsome overview of the colonial system, settlers, and their impacts on people. While there are more people becoming aware of our colonial history and its impacts, there are equally as many who do not know or fully understand it. Settler colonialism is described in many ways, but at its core it is a permanent removal or dominance over an Indigenous population, and ownership or claiming of land. In other words, the settler group flourishes at the destruction of the Indigenous group.

Colonialism is layered deeply into our society, from the past through to the present day. This makes the aspect of understanding complicated – laws, legislation, and policies from the time of colonization to today make it difficult to apologize and impossible to apply a concept of “just get over it.” We all need to fully understand how colonialism has shaped our shared history. What colonial legislation, laws, or policies are impacting or breaching the rights of the Mikmaq people in Nova Scotia? If you are a farmer, consider how connected your own family history is to that land. What if someone came and took it away without purchasing it? What about the people who were displaced from that land in the late 1800s?

We all have a role to play in working towards never hearing “just get over it” in any conversation.

3. Education

There is a profound need for education on the colonial history of North America. After you finish reading this blog, consider what three things you can do today to work towards expanding understanding about the shared colonial history through education. What about next month? And the next decade? For example, I was with a colleague last week who stated their thanksgiving celebration a few years ago was highlighted by her father doing a presentation on Idle No More.

The best learning often occurs in the small or unexpected moments.

I’ve noticed that since COVID-19 has limited my outings, I tend to eavesdrop much more than I ever have. I know it is not on purpose, but after some reflection, I seem to be more attuned to hearing others. Before the pandemic, when I was facilitating in-person workshops and had unlimited contact with hundreds of people every week, I had the ability to automatically turn off some conversations and noise. Perhaps this was necessary, but we are social beings after all – maybe we are all listening more intently now.

For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.


Noela Crowe-Salazar

MSW, RSW – Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

Noela is a co-author of CTRI’s book, Counselling in Relationships – Insights for Helping Families Develop Healthy Connections. The book is available on our website.

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