This term is often used in initiatives that aim to restore relations between settlers and Indigneous peoples. For example, South Africa’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ was set up to bring the country together in the wake of Apartheid. Canada’s TRC was tasked with documenting the lasting impact of the residential schooling system on Indigenous peoples.
There are two relevant definitions of “reconciliation” here: the first is a restoration of amicable relations between distinct parties, the second, the action of bringing differing beliefs to a harmonious agreement. However, whilst this might initially seem a beneficial way to heal historic wounds, there are problems with the term. Importantly, the term does not necessarily require an acknowledgment of power imbalances, but instead can be interpreted as a mutual effort by both sides to put aside differences and move forward. Moreover, the full term, “truth and reconciliation” is sometimes neglected in favour of an emphasis on reconciliation. This omission is revealing in that it prioritises a process of healing rather than focusing on bringing people to justice. Finally, the desire to reconcile differing beliefs is a difficult proposal in contexts where one party has been subject to far greater violence than the other. In these cases, the impulse to heal historic wounds cannot be framed in discourses of “reconciliation”. These histories are not questions of squaring different beliefs, but are fundamentally about power relations. Framing such ontological questions in terms of “reconciliation”, then, seems inadequate at best and actively avoiding moral responsibilities at worst.