Reconciliation in Minnesota: An Interview with Sam Grey

This year, the University of Minnesota will be hosting Sam Grey, a Fulbright Scholar from Canada. Sam comes to campus to continue her research in the field of reconciliation, specifically in settler-colonial states. While in Minnesota, Sam will be exploring the resistance to reconciliation in Minnesota a century and a half after the Dakota conflict of 1862.

Coming from the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Sam is well suited to exploring Minnesota’s relationship with its indigenous communities. Her doctoral research focuses on political theory and comparative politics, primarily from a non-western political perspective. Sam’s research interests have included, in addition to indigenous rights, gender equality, food politics and solidarity politics.  As a Canadian scholar in Minnesota, Sam is in a unique position to compare Canada’s recently completed Truth and Reconciliation process with the United States’ own attempts to understand its own relationship with its indigenous population.

For context, the CanadianTruth & Reconciliation Commission issued its final findings in June after seven years of examining the legacy of the country’s residential school programs. Unlike other Truth & Reconciliation Commissions, Canada’s held no legal power, which meant that it couldn’t offer amnesty for alleged perpetrators of abuse at the residential schools in exchange for testimony. The result was a commission that primarily focused on recording victim experiences.  Following the conclusion of hearings, the commission published an extensive report of its findings. The report outlined many of the challenges that indigenous people continue to face in Canada as a result of the residential schools and outlined a plan for reconciliation. Most famously, commissioner chair and Canadian Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin labelled the residential schoolsystem cultural genocide .

When asked why Canada has been so forthcoming about its troubling history with indigenous people, Sam is honest. In her assessment, Canada’s relationship with its indigenous communities isn’t actually that positive, though it’s likely that it’s perceived as good when compared to the United States’ relationship its indigenous population. She says the Truth & Reconciliation commission and subsequent report are a positive step, but fall short of addressing many of the systemic issues in Canada. She points to several troubling incidents, including the current epidemic of missing indigenous women in central Canada that demonstrate the amount of work that needs to continue.

When asked about Minnesota, the idea of local reconciliation seems especially difficult to Sam. There are a number of factors that she says make attempts at reconciliation challenging, including that the resentment amongst descendants of the Minnesota settlers who took part in the 1862 conflict and members of the Dakota community is still present. Memories of the conflict represent just one of the hurdles to reconciliation in Minnesota that Sam hopes to explore during her nine months here.

Sam sees the issue of residential schools as the best approach for building a greater understanding of the legacy of colonialism in the United States and Canada. To her, and other scholars, boarding and residential schools represent “philanthropy gone off the rails,” which makes the issue easier to understand and contextualize. As more people gain an understanding the schools as a place of abuse, Sam explains, scholars can build on that awareness to promote a greater understanding of the issues affecting indigenous people today.

Much of Sam’s work can be found on her Academia webpage.

Joe Eggers is a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, focusing his research on cultural genocide and indigenous communities. His thesis project explores discrepancies between the legal definition and Lemkin’s concept of genocide through analysis of American government assimilation policies towards Native Nations.

 

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