Rethinking the relationship between spirituality and reconciliation

A symposium on Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Canada

University of Victoria
  • First Peoples House
  • Ceremonial Hall


Download the program (PDF)

March 8

7:00 – 9:00 pm

The Role of the Sacred in Indigenous Law and Reconciliation

IdeasFest Event, in partnership with University of Victoria VP Research

It is often said that Indigenous peoples’ relationship to the land — and Indigenous peoples’ law — are sacred. What does “sacred” mean in this context? What should it convey to non-Indigenous Canadians when they engage with Indigenous peoples? How can you understand another person’s sense of the sacred? Two of UVic’s leading Indigenous scholars, John Borrows and Val Napoleon, will discuss the sacred in Indigenous law and reconciliation.

Alix Goolden Hall, 907 Pandora Ave.

Keynote speakers:

March 9

8:30 – 9:00 am

Acknowledgement of Territory and Protocol

9:00 – 10:30 am

Panel 1: Whose Reconciliation? Which Spirituality?

‘Reconciliation’ and ‘spirituality’ are both contested, multiple, and at times divisive terms. As such, it is important at the outset to explore the range of meanings, misunderstandings, and approaches which can be employed when speaking of reconciliation, spirituality, and their possible relations with each other. What do we mean when we talk about these things separately and in relation to each other? What are the distinct and diverse ways of talking about them? What modes of talking about them have been predominant, and which have been marginal? Should we be cautious in speaking of their relation to each other?

Chairperson: Dean Jeremy Webber (University of Victoria)


  • Dr. Roshan Danesh (University of Victoria)
    “A genealogy of a symposium”
  • Prof. Andrée Boisselle (York University)
    “Reconciliation: Learning from the Coast Salish witness”
  • Prof. Pierrot Ross-Tremblay (Université Laurentienne)
    “The Test of Truth: First Peoples, Canada and the Journey to Reconciliation”
10:30 – 11:00 am

Coffee break

11:00 am – 12:30 pm

Panel 2: Understanding the Past

The history of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada is full of pain and oppression, as well as periods of cooperation and dialogue. We are steadily deepening our individual and shared understandings all the time, and learning to listen and dialogue in new, more respectful, and purposeful ways. How are understandings of the history of Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Canada changing? How does looking at spirituality help us to interpret and understand past events, and their influence on the present day? How have religion and spirituality been used to divide and harm people, and in what ways have they contributed to resilience in the face of oppression, and to relationships of mutual understanding and respect? How should we understand the injustices and suffering of the past, while retaining the intrinsic nobility, dignity and agency of present day survivors? What kind of education is needed to help young people to learn about the most negative forces of history, still present in many forms, while also being provided with a hopeful kind of learning that can inspire transformative actions?

Chairperson: Geoffrey Cameron (Baha’i Community of Canada)


12:30 – 1:30 pm

Lunch break

1:30 – 3:00 pm

Panel 3: Acting in the Present

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that the process of reconciliation is about “establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.” The TRC also called for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be endorsed and implemented as comprehensive framework for reconciliation. The work of building the required new relationships embraces the whole of society. It is not something that can be left for future generations – although they will also have a role to play. What are central foundations for such new relationships? What are the characteristics of relationships based on recognition and respect? What is the role of Indigenous legal traditions in revitalizing and re-imagining our relations? Are there spiritual principles that can guide this work of coming together? What conditions are needed for people to pursue sustained healing, collective learning, and an unbiased recognition of the truths about our history? What attitudes and practices of dialogue can help to eradicate prejudice, foster common understanding, truly respect distinctiveness and diversity, and promote greater social unity? How does attending to spirituality in the process of reconciliation modify our view of politics as a contest over access to power? How can we discover other models of transformative change that do not rely on winning, losing, and dividing people into groups with opposing interests?

Chairperson: Prof. Paul Bramadat (University of Victoria)


  • Prof. Gordon Christie (University of British Columbia)
    “The Valorization of Human Spirituality and the Oppression of Indigenous Peoples”
  • Prof. Hadley Friedland (University of Alberta)
    “Spiritual Space: The Importance of Non-knowing”
  • Prof. Sarah Hunt (University of British Columbia)
    “Gendering the T of the TRC: truth-telling and transformation”
3:00 – 3:30 pm

Coffee break

3:30 – 5:00 pm

Panel 4: Imagining the Future

As we examine the conditions of society today and reflect on our hopes for social transformation, our vision can be uplifted by efforts to imagine alternative futures. How might society look differently than it does now, and what different roles would religion and spirituality play in this society? In what ways will relationships based on recognition and reconciliation be reflected in families, neighbourhoods, communities, and in public conversation and social action? How must society change to properly respect Indigenous laws, governments, and jurisdictions? How will cultural distinctiveness and differences be honoured and respected? How will the process of reconciliation help to transform the relationship between people and the natural environment?

Chairperson: Prof. Lisa Dufraimont (Osgoode Hall, York University)


  • Douglas White (Vancouver Island University)
    “Love, Acceptance, Justice and Reconciliation”
  • Prof. Sarah Morales (University of Ottawa)
    “Speakers, Witnesses and Blanketing: The Need to Look Beyond the Courts to Achieve Reconciliation”
  • Robert Clifford (York University)
    “SKÁLS: WSÁNEĆ Laws and Beliefs”
5:00 – 5:30 pm

Closing comments

Prof. Val Napoleon and Prof. John Borrows

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