Backgrounder: Reconciliation

By Carl Steffens, Student, Simon Fraser University

Reconciliation in all its forms requires patience, openness and courage.

Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, Hereditary Chief of Gwawaʼenux̱w

Defining Reconciliation

The definition of reconciliation in the Canadian context has been shaped by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Reconciliation is to understand the events of the past, to overcome conflict, and to establish respectful, healthy relationships among people now and in the future. Reconciliation is also about establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. These definitions are used to understand how reconciliation is an essential part of
creating A City for All.

Why Reconciliation?

With colonization, the power imbalance among the Canadian government, settlers, and Indigenous peoples, led to the abuse, assimilation, and marginalization of Indigenous peoples. This relationship imbalance is highlighted through actions such as the Indian Act, the residential school system, and Indian reserves. Recognition and acknowledgement of these past injustices and systemic mistakes that marginalized communities, began the reconciliation process of restoring respectful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

The term reconciliation in a Canadian context generally refers to the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. As the first peoples of this land Indigenous peoples are fundamentally different from later groups. However, the tools of reconciliation can also create an inclusive city for other historically marginalized Vancouverites such as Vancouver’s Chinese, Japanese, and Black communities. The process of reconciliation includes examining historical actions such as housing discrimination and displacement through urban renewal that have affected the way certain communities are able to live and interact in Vancouver to the present day.


In 2013, the City of Vancouver passed a motion to proclaim the Year of Reconciliation in Vancouver, endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which Canada formally adopted in November 2010, and designating Vancouver, City of Reconciliation, the first in the world. Vancouver had 5 foundational goals to strengthen local First Nations and Urban Indigenous relations.

On June 25, 2014, Council also formally acknowledged that the City of Vancouver is situated on the unceded, traditional territory of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations and signed a Statement of Cooperation with each of the First Nation communities. Vancouver city staff have identified 28 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action as actionable at the
municipal level.

The City is engaged in actions to implement reconciliation in three broad areas to:

  • Strengthen Local First Nations and Urban Aboriginal Relations;
  • Promote Aboriginal Peoples Arts, Culture, Awareness and Understanding; and
  • Incorporate First Nations and Urban Aboriginal Perspectives for Effective City Services.

Specific actions include:

  • Reconciliation and Indigenous specific participation in all strategic planning, for example the Healthy Cities Strategy, Resilient City, Creative City, City for all Women strategies;
  • Building new Aboriginal health and wellness facilities; and
  • Re-affirming Indigenous place names.

The City of Vancouver has embedded reconciliation goals into the municipality’s core work, hiring staff in most departments with specific reconciliation responsibilities. To date there have been over 75 Vancouver initiatives, including the hiring of a City of Vancouver Indigenous Relations Manager, the establishment of the Urban Indigenous Peoples Advisory Committee and several Indigenous civic cultural and art activities and installations.

The City has also committed to expanding the focus of the City of Reconciliation Framework to other ethnicities and cultures in Vancouver in 2019.

The process of reconciliation is well underway. This conference roundtable was a report card of sorts and a look into the future.