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


The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the survivors of residential schools who testified before it, have helped to expand a national public conversation about reconciliation.

This includes how we understand our own history, the dynamics of individual and collective healing, the on-going social, cultural, political, and economic impacts of Canada’s history of colonization, and how to foster transformed and mutually respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in this country. This conversation, and the work it demands, is complex, multi-layered, and touches all sectors of Canadian society. Included in this work are unresolved issues about self-government, land rights, resource extraction, environmental protection, the well-being of children and families, gender equality, and policing — just to name a few. Many of these issues continue to be fraught with conflict, and few have been resolved satisfactorily through political or legal processes.

It is encouraging that in recent years there has seen significant research and study — increasingly led and informed by Indigenous scholars — about how to understand these challenges and effect the required transformations. This symposium asks whether and how this work of decolonization and reconciliation may be understood as also being a spiritual challenge, and what that might mean for individual and social action.

It must be acknowledged that there are some potential tensions associated with raising such a topic, given the roles of religious institutions and belief systems in settler colonialism. Furthermore, the meanings and goals of reconciliation, as well as the definitions of religion and spirituality themselves, are contested. Although these factors suggest we adopt a cautious and humble approach to these discussions, there are nonetheless vital areas for exploration and further understanding: What might it mean to understand reconciliation as being a spiritual challenge? Are there serious pitfalls to conceiving of reconciliation in those terms? What are the specific understandings of reconciliation that may be gained from Indigenous spiritual traditions, as well as other spiritual traditions, and do they work cross-culturally? How might this alter our approach to reconciliation? Can concepts and approaches offered by various spiritual traditions present useful contributions to processes of reconciliation or give rise to new strategies — social, political, legal, economic — for working for social change? Do the differences and disagreements on the meanings and nature of spirituality render such a focus counter-productive? What is the role of love, trustworthiness, truthfulness, and compassion in reconciliation? Do spiritual perspectives on reconciliation help us understand the relationship between healing the harms that have occurred and achieving justice in the present and future? What kind of alternatives and visions of the future can acknowledging the spiritual dimensions of reconciliation open up to those who are working to transform relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canadian society?