Unsettling the Settler Within: Chapter 4

Posted on June 14, 2016. Filed under: Anti Oppressive Ed, cultural, Ed890, First Nations, Masters, Race, reflection, Unsettling the Settler |

Chapter 4 brings light to The Alternative Dispute Resolution Program (ADRP) that Ottawa set up in 2002.  It is a program that was created to settle thousands of litigation claims filed by former Indian Residential School (IRS) students against the Crown and various churches. I had never heard of this program until reading this chapter, and as Regan explained how it worked, I can see why many First Nations people were frustrated with its implementation.

In its essence, the ADRP tried to use a Western model for claims resolution to deal with Aboriginal contentions. The ADRP became another colonial tool for re-victimizing IRS Survivors.

“This reconciliation discourse was actually a living testament to the ongoing dysfunction, violence, denial, and unequal power that characterize Indigenous-settler relations. In this sense, our dialogue contains all the elements of an abusive crazy-making relationship – victims name the abuse, which perpetrators either deny or acknowledge with a promise to reform, while pointing out all the supportive ways in which they are helping victims” (Regan, 2010, p. 112).

Alternative-Dispute-Resolution

I find this picture from Michigan State University’s College of Law telling. This is the picture they use to advertise their ADRP program to law students.

I was quite shocked when I was reading how the ADRP was going about trying to “compensate” Survivors for their losses. The ADRP negotiators were trained to be “neutral,” (how neutral can a White, upper middle class Settler be?) listen to the testimony of Survivors, and then hand out a pre-set limited amount of money based on claims of sexual and physical abuse.  It was written right into the plan that monetary rewards would only be given for those two types of abuse. Loss of culture, language, heritage, and family relations did not play into the settlement. The entirety of The Alternative Dispute Resolution Program was flawed to begin with. When Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, including Paulette Regan, began to debate the value or lack of value of the program at a Calgary conference in 2004, Regan explained it as Native and non-Native people “engaged not in a dialogue but in two monologues, as we talk past each other” (Regan, 2010, p. 115). I think this is a great picture of what dialogue often looks like around Indigenous contentions, especially at a governmental level.

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This article is quoted in Ch. 4. Gov’t officials took heat on how the ADRP wasn’t promoting healing or reconciliation.

What I take into my own Treaty 4 project is how easily colonial ways and understandings creep into processes that are meant to work for reconciliation.

“The dynamics of symbolic violence are evident in the visceral exchanges between residential school survivors, government officials, and church representatives in public forums and less visibly in the everyday bureaucratic processes and practices that serve to reinforce colonial power relations. This subtle violence is all the more elegant because it is embedded in a language of healing and reconciliation that is seductive to both the colonizer and the colonized, albeit for different reasons” (Regan, 2010, p. 116).

I have to admit, this quote from Regan scares me. Thankfully I have had my Masters supervisor, Mike Cappello challenge me right from the beginning on being the “White Knight” with this Treaty 4 Reconciliation project. That said, I am becoming increasingly more aware of how Euro-centric understandings and approaches to reconciliation are embedded right in my life, and therefore into my project.  When I look at my journey critically, I think a lot of the reason I wanted to do this project had to do with me wanting to “solve the Indian problem.” I wanted to fix what was wrong.  I wanted to do something about the injustices that were being revealed to me.

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“White Knight” Photo credit: Richard Paterson via Flickr

When I would explain my dilemma on not becoming the “White Knight,” to friends/ colleagues/peers in my Masters classes, some people would take part in White talk where they told me not to worry, and that I was doing such a good thing by wanting to work on this project. I am realizing more and more that I have to be so careful while taking up this reconciliation project!  If anything, I have learned that I need to be willing to completely abandon it if the First Nation’s elders and allies I will be working with don’t feel like this is an adequate way for me to help work towards reconciliation. This chapter helped me realize that for too long the reconciliation process has been on the backs of First Nations people. The ADRP relied on the IRS Survivors to do the work of re-living their abuse, fighting for compensation, and moving forward.  When is it our turn as colonizers/settlers to take responsibility for our own history and work towards reconciliation from our end? Where do these understandings fit into the way I take up my Treaty 4 Reconciliation Project? Who/what audience should my project be intended for?

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