What is reconciliation?
In the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, reconciliation is described as “an end to a disagreement or conflict with somebody and the start of a good relationship again.”
It's a term most commonly heard when discussing Indigenous relationships, and currently it's a subject up for debate between our neighbours, the Stoney Nakoda Nation and the McDougall Stoney Mission Society.
While the McDougall Society is working on restoration of the 142-year-old McDougall Memorial United Church, "reconciliation" has been used by both parties repeatedly. A restoration project for the church, which was burnt in May 2017 in a 4 a.m. “set fire, was approved by the province after the minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women determined parts of the site were salvageable.
At the same time, the Stoney Nakoda Nation submitted an official request to the province asking for the removal of the provincial historic resource designation.
The Nation has taken the official position it does not support the project and has said the restoration is “not an act of reconciliation.”
While the province was deciding what to do with the request, the Nation explored other legal avenues.
In February, the Nation challenged the permit approval by the MD of Bighorn at its subdivision and development appeal board. In its decision to deny the appeal, the board noted it heard from at least three Elders who either did not oppose the Nation's position, or who came out with their own opposition to the project.
The Nation took its challenge to the Court of Appeals. Justice Bruce McDonald said the SDBA did not err in law and dismissed the Nation’s appeal.
The legal avenues available to the Nation have been exhausted and now the ethical question around whether this church should be rebuilt is in the province's hands.
If the site's historic designation was rescinded, it could kickstart the 2004 agreement to purchase option, which could result in an option for Stoney Nakoda to buy back the land for $10.
It would also be the first time in Alberta’s history a designated historic resource would be reconsidered because of ties to Canada’s shameful and controversial past when it comes to its treatment of Indigenous peoples.
This is all happening during a pivotal moment when statues tied to racist narratives are being torn down by protestors in the U.S., as well as in Canada and Europe.
When asked about the parallels of removing statues compared to rebuilding a church that many have described as a “painful legacy,” society president and great-great-great granddaughter of the church's founder John McDougall, Brenda McQueen said she does not believes “erasing the painful or negative history is the best way to approach this.”
For the society, the best way to approach this is to work together and restore the church as a process of reconciliation.
For the Nation, the best way forward for reconciliation is to not rebuild a controversial building that serves as a painful reminder to residential school survivors.
So what happens when one side calls it reconciliation and the other side does not?
You look at the side who has suffered the trauma. Listen to the victims of overt and systemic racism, not those who inherited the legacy of oppression. As Canadians, we must all start by listening to what Indigenous people want and need for reconciliation. They have been telling us for years what that looks like already.
And if your historical landmark is a reminder of that painful history – you should listen.
Because we are living in a revolutionary time where Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) people have said "enough" and are continuing their work to challenge a long history of systemic racism.
The Oxford dictionary is clear on its definition; it is not true reconciliation if both sides don't agree. When that's the case, we should begin by listening to those who have suffered first.