The Work of Reconciliation

Relationships can be thorny. Photo: Jan Maydan, Almonte Fair, Lanark Agricultural Building

“We are so divided!”

“We can never heal from this.”

“Why do they say they will listen but they don’t?”

“It was a hard decision to hurt you, but…”


“This hurts me as much as it hurts you.”

“Why don’t you believe me? You’re not perfect!”

“It’s for the greater good. Trust me.”

From 1997 to 2010, I worked on the Indian Residential School abuse cases; I was selected mainly because I had experience working with victims of sexual assaults and on reserves.  Criminal trials finding several perpetrators guilty had started most of the claims. It turned out that thousands of children had been abused in residential schools nationally. The first ones were opened by the Jesuits in the 1700s, and the last one closed in 1996.

As one of the first program managers, I had few  mentors or manuals to guide me as I represented the federal government in mediation, court and negotiation with churches. I ended up modeling the role for new staff and lawyers, trying to explain the need to maintain a relationship to people who argued for a living. The indigenous, church and government parties to the eventual Settlement Agreement ended up changing the limitations laws in most provinces and how bureaucracies treat people.

How do you reconcile?  Is an apology good enough? What needs to be done? Does this mean you have to “turn the other cheek”? Suffer insults and abuse gladly or silently?  Do you have to forgive? No.

For victims, speaking out is the first and hardest step. A victim might only accept and understand what happened and know they were not at fault. Because some offenders are unrepentant, real forgiveness is elusive or impossible. For those offenders who want to continue a relationship, a challenging self-examination is vital.

I am sharing a speech that I prepared in 2009. The principles have a very broad application: to nations, groups, families, couples and individuals.  I hope you find it useful.

Overview of Reconciliation