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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Hope is hard won : gender and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada James, Alison Lindsay


The Canadian state’s relationship to Indigenous peoples has been characterized by genocidal policy, societal marginalization, and, more recently, efforts towards reparation and reconciliation. Such efforts include the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) - tasked with establishing a comprehensive record of the Indian Residential School System and its legacy - which concluded in 2015. In Canada, the experiences of Indigenous women sit at the nexus of patriarchy and settler colonialism, each system of oppression facilitating attendant injustices. At the outset of the TRC, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) called for the implementation of culturally relevant gender-based reconciliation, rooted in Indigenous epistemologies. I respond to this call by asking how the TRC recognized Indigenous women's gender oppressions both in practice and in analysis. Informed by transitional justice and Indigenous studies literatures, I apply a transformative reconciliation lens to the TRC. Reconciliation is frequently invoked in the praxis and theory of transitional justice, but the term remains under-specified. I define transformative reconciliation as an ongoing process that centres collective responsibility, relationality, and disrupting both colonial and patriarchal relations of power. I analyze the TRC’s setup and historical context, proceedings, and outputs using discourse analysis and NWAC’s criteria for gender-responsive truth commissions. I find that while the TRC achieved and continues to achieve broad exposure of the truths of residential schools, the commission offered few avenues for furthering transformative reconciliation and gender justice. The TRC did not purposively incorporate gender equity in its programming and outputs. I identify a discourse of absence throughout the TRC in which the political agency of Indigenous women and the specifically gendered aspects of their experiences in and after residential school are underexplored. I conclude by theorizing an alternative discourse of survivance, arguing that by furthering elements of survivance, in particular revisiting the concept of witnessing in the longer-term; incorporating resistance and refusal; and understanding the experiences of intergenerational survivors, the academic field and practice of transitional justice could see greater possibilities for furthering gender justice and transformative reconciliation.

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