Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is tasked with facing the hundred-year history of Indian Residential Schools. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is frequently invoked in relation to the Canadian TRC, perhaps because this is one of the few TRCs worldwide that Canadians know. Whilst the South African TRC is mainly applauded as an international success, I argue that loose analogizing is often more emotive than concise. Whilst much indeed can be drawn from the South African experience, it is important to specify the Canada–South Africa analogy. In this article, I do so by focussing on the institutional approach to truth and how this relates to issues of settler/White denial. The South African experience teaches that narrow approaches to truth collude with superficial views of reconciliation that deny continuities of violence. Consequently, I argue that Indigenous–settler reconciliation requires a broad truth that locates residential schools on a continuum of violence, linking extraordinary abuses with structural injustices and historic colonization with lived relationships.
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For a good overview of complaints, see the collection of essays in Chapman and Van der Merwe (2008).
Although the Prime Minister seems to have been referring to Canada’s lack of outward colonialism, the remark reveals how little our history of internal colonialism appears on his radar.
Though it is frequently asserted that colonial Canada provided the model for apartheid, Cambre (2007, p. 31) finds there is little “concrete proof” for such claims; nevertheless, she argues, the myth-like status of this claim in Canada is itself revealing.
It is common in South Africa to retain apartheid era racial categories for statistical purposes so as to continue to measure the legacy of apartheid in salient categories. I follow in this, fully recognizing the social construction of race. My use of “Blacks” follows the language of struggle, that is, inclusive of all oppressed racial groups (i.e. Africans, Indians and Coloureds). Similarly, some Indigenous people resist the term “Aboriginal” as a colonial construction. I mainly stick with “Indigenous”, except where context or quotations necessitate “Aboriginal”.
A tire filled with petrol is placed around the victim’s neck and lit on fire.
Though Chapman and Ball draw the same conclusions as the others about the TRC’s flaws, they somewhat conversely argue that the TRC prioritized subjective truth and “downgraded the significance of scientific and forensic truth” (p. 147). They lament the lack of a social scientist in the SATRC who understood the value of quantitative tools that could produce “verifiable” and “objective” macro-truth. They similarly lament the anecdotal use of victim statements, which “implicitly suggests” that truth is “a matter of personal opinion” (p. 147). Implicit in their argument is that subjective narratives could be converted into objective facts if only there were a sophisticated enough interview protocol form and victim database. In short, their argument, as I understand it, is that the SATRC did a poor job of being positivist.
TRC media and communication strategies are beyond my scope.
This is in addition to whatever healing potential truth sharing might have for survivors and communities. As Corntassel et al. (2009) show in their research, survivors may also link residential schools to homeland and restitution.
South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. Whilst the biggest gaps are intra-racial, 57 % of Africans are poor compared to <1 % of Whites who are poor (HSRC 2004).
This database will be housed in the National Research Centre.
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I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and Emily Gillespie for her assistance. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada is also acknowledged for its support.
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Nagy, R. Truth, Reconciliation and Settler Denial: Specifying the Canada–South Africa Analogy. Hum Rights Rev 13, 349–367 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-012-0224-4