The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) was established in June 2008 to address the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools system that operated in Canada from the late 1800s until 1996. In its six years of operation, the TRC gathered statements from over 6,000 residential school survivors from across Canada, with harrowing accounts of endemic abuse, severe loneliness, fear, lack of freedom, racist slurs and cultural oppression. In June 2015, the TRC issued its Final Report and called for work on reconciliation based on ‘mutual respect’ to begin. In this paper, I explore the meaning of reconciliation as understood and practised by the Canadian TRC and the initiatives that have come in its wake. I focus in particular on the role of culture and cultural practices and the potential to communicate via culture unsettled and unsettling narratives that challenge the ‘myth of benevolent colonialism’. Cultural destruction – genocide – was at the heart of colonial policies toward indigenous communities. Conversely, it is in culture that there is the potential for repair and reconciliation as it is both symbolic of, and constitutive of, resilience and narratives of resistance.
Dr Rachel Kerr is a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at King’s College London. Her research interests are in the area of law and war, in particular war crimes and transitional/post-conflict justice, and she co-directs the War Crimes Research Group at King’s. Her books include: The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia: Law, Diplomacy and Politics (OUP, 2004); Peace and Justice: Seeking Accountability after War (Polity, 2007), with Eirin Mobekk, The Military on Trial: The British Army in Iraq (Nijmegen: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2008), and Prosecuting War Crimes: Lessons and Legacies of 20 Years of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (London: Routledge, 2013), co-edited with James Gow and Zoran Pajic. Her most recent projects have focused on the role of visual evidence in War Crimes Prosecutions, and legal and ethical challenges of technological and scientific innovations and non-obvious warfare and she is currently working on an AHRC-funded project on ‘Art and Reconciliation’. In 2009-10, Dr Kerr was a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and in 2011-13, she was a Visiting Research Associate at the Centre for International Policy Studies, University of Ottawa, Canada. She is currently a co-Chair of the London Transitional Justice Network.