Toward a reflective equilibrium: The colonial legacy and the role of reconciliation in telecommunications and broadcasting policy

Author: Tricia Toso

Home university: Concordia University

Education level: Communication Studies, PhD Candidate

Reconciliation requires transitioning from the colonial system of government imposed on First Nations through the Indian Act, to systems of Indigenous governance that are determined by Indigenous peoples and recognized by others. Indigenous peoples must do this work. We have to deconstruct the colonial reality, identify shared priorities and visions, rebuild governance structures and capacity, determine how to move out of the Indian Act and revitalize legal orders.
Honorary Jody Wilson-Raybould

We recognize that our recommendations will need to be understood and implemented in the context of a range of other Indigenous-specific policies and initiatives related to Canada's colonial past and Reconciliation. There are many matters between the federal Crown and Indigenous Peoples and their governments now in play, and we want to emphasize the importance of communications issues in that context. Our work in this area should be seen as only a first step. We encourage the government to continue to engage with members of Indigenous Peoples and communities to ensure that their communications needs continue to be appropriately addressed.
Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review Panel, January 2020.

One of the problems with colonialism is that it tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews.
Leroy Littlebear, 2000, p.77.

Reconciliation is a concept that is referenced frequently in a number of governmental and academic discourses, and it has most recently appeared in the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Legislative Review (BTLR) report, “Canada’s Communications Future: Time to Act”.  Despite its discursive presence, there is very little discussion about what reconciliation actually means: what responsibilities are evoked for regulatory bodies such as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Canadian Heritage, Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), and more broadly, the Canadian communications sector on a path toward reconciliation with Indigenous peoples? What steps should be taken to build respectful and resilient relations between Indigenous and settler Canadians working in the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors? Drawing on Juanita Sundberg’s ethical post-human politics (2014) this paper identifies three activities or steps that the BTLR would do well to engage with: the first is to develop a settler self-reflexivity that unsettles epistemological assumptions; secondly, through a process of “unlearning” develop a “multiepistemic literacy” (Kuokkanen 2010) that calls for both responsibility as action and “participatory reciprocity” (Sundberg 2010); and finally a practice of walking-with (Springgay and Truman) that offers potential for the development of Duty to Consult policy.

I offer a tentative path for each of these, hoping they provoke critique, commentary, and conversation about how we might advance a decolonizing politics in the broadcasting and telecommunication sectors. The first endeavour involves examining the epistemological and ontological assumptions, or what Ruana Kuokkanen terms the “episteme” (2010)Footnote 1 that underpins communications policy in Canada, and has “been naturalized in and through geopolitical and institutional power relations and practices” (Sundberg, 2014, p. 39). The processes and practices that characterize and mobilize Canadian policy are not universal, nor arbitrary, but rather they have emerged from specific geo-political and historical pasts as well as the present tense (Kuokkanen, 2010, p. 67). This “homework” (Spivak, 1990) or in Foucauldian terms, archaeology (1978-9/ 2004) is an endeavour that works to identify and critique the discursive formation of policy, and the ideologies in which they are invested. It requires that we locate the historical assemblages or events that have shaped and informed policy, and articulate the genealogies of the concepts, embodied or material practices. This endeavour requires that we “unsettle” the Eurocentric conceptual apparatus that has not only dominated Europe and colonial state-nations, but have to some degree become naturalized as part of global capitalism. The colonial relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples, the lands, water, and all who inhabit the many ecologies that make up this place we call Canada have emerged with neo-colonization and patriarchal global capitalism that can be traced back through the development of modernity, the Enlightenment, the Renaissance, and formation of the ‘nation-state’ with the Westphalia of 1648. There is much policy history yet to be charted and represented, and to be analyzed and critiqued; our ignorance about the historicity of telecommunications and broadcasting policies, or more broadly the ways in which social policy perpetuates colonialism and the socio-economic marginalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada through neoliberal approaches and values in policy.

Aaron Mills identifies a form of colonial violence that operates transparently and is often concealed in bureaucracy (2019). Unseen and unheard, this violence abnegates Indigenous peoples their worldview, and thus the ability to participate in the shaping and articulation of the world. In Mills words: it “denies Indigenous peoples our ability to speak and to live our truths … and even to imagine our lives constituted within our own understands of persons, freedom and community” (p. 5). The principle of settler supremacy, that is, the assumption that Eurocentric, colonial-capitalism worldview and values are universal and “right”, obscures the multiplicity of ways of seeing and participating in the world (Mills, 2019). To begin addressing settler ignorance, Kuokkanen calls for learning as a form of “participatory reciprocity” (2010). Rejecting the belief that learning arises from a study of, she embraces the notion of learning with, in which knowledge making becomes a social activity and “entails learning to perceive and receive Indigenous epistemes as part of the geopolitical present” (2010, p. 40). It is to learn about multiplicity, but not through learning to know the other, but learning as engagement with the other (Kuokkanen 2010).

Work done by Canadian Indigenous law scholars such as Mills, Tracey Lindberg, and John Borrows offers thoughtful consideration about how the Canadian legal community might begin to recognize and address forms of neo-colonialism and work toward reconciliation through the development of a “community of discourse” (Borrows 2002, p. 46). Arguing that if Indigenous peoples are to challenge and change Canadian jurisprudence and legal principles to include their understanding of law and justice, they must “devote thoughtful consideration and effort to an articulation of their own laws” (p. 26). As many Indigenous laws  find expression in traditional stories, an appropriate methodology must be found to allow access to oral tradition and community knowledge that is respectful and receptive (p. 35). This conceptualization of shared knowledge evokes Kuokkanen’s idea “participatory reciprocity” and Isabelle Stengers’ advocacy for a “public intelligence” (2017). These ideas offer the telecommunications and broadcasting sector models from which we might approach the path of reconciliation, and the means to explore how the recognition of Indigenous law and politics may be extended to the sphere of policy.

The question of how to decolonize policy processes and practices is sure to have a multitude of approaches, but I offer the concept of walking-with as a means of conceptualizing the steps forward. Sundberg observes that walking is “an important practice in the performative coproduction of knowledge and space” and that we create our world in processes of movement and knowledge making (2014, p. 39). Springgay and Truman’s critical insights into the potential of walking-with as a qualitative research methodology (2018) call for an ethics of relationing to emerge in the “entangled materializations” (Barad 2007) that has a great deal of potential for re-embedding policy in the materiality and life of a more-than-human world. I suggest the concept walking-with has potential for the development of policy on the duty to consult. The metaphor of walking together, or moving through a territory, reminds us that the obligations that arise from and in consultation are not singular, static, or pre-determined, but rather emerge in an often process of engagement and movement toward the path of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

To genuinely engage in reconciliation, Canadians must acknowledge how the constitutional order, legal and legislative frameworks, policy theory and practices are unequivocally colonial in logic and structure, and operate within settler worldviews (Mills, 2019, p. 210). The mobilization of the concept of terra nulliusFootnote 2 has worked to erase and suppress Indigenous traditions, whether legal or land management, and replace with them colonial legislation, laws, and policy that benefits settlers while dispossessing and marginalizing Indigenous peoples. To respond to Wilson-Raybould’s remarks, it is not only the work of Indigenous peoples, rather settlers must assume responsibility in the work of reconciliation. The deconstruction and rebuilding of governance structures and/or forms is the decolonization work of settlers. It is to tend to the groundwork, that is, developing critical genealogies of colonial policy and its “discursive politics” (Davidson-Harden, 2013), and deciding what policy theories and practices might serve reconciliation, what can be recycled or composted, and what should be shovelled under as manure.

Situating ourselves

I begin by acknowledging my own positionality: I am a white settler, born in the territory of the Squamish nation, and the small mining and logging towns I grew up in are found in the lands of the Nakoda, Nootka, and Kwakiutl peoples. As an adult I have lived in the territories of the Gespegeoag, Penawapskewt/Penobscot and Mohawk communities. In the last few years I have had the opportunity to work with, and learn from many people in the telecommunications and broadcasting sector, particularly those working and living in Eeyou Istchee/James Bay.Footnote 3 My understanding of and knowledge about communications infrastructure systems and policy, as well as some of the particular challenges of communications service provision in Canada’s remote and rural regions, has been influenced and informed by the many conversations, email exchanges, and site visits in Eeyou Istchee, as well as the larger Canadian social and cultural context.

Central in the Canadian context has been the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and the pressing need to consider what it means for Canada to ratify the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).Footnote 4  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) brought the concept of reconciliation to the forefront with its 2015 Final Report. While the TRC’s mandate was to address residential schools and their legacy, it discussed the importance of reconciliation as “an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships.”Footnote 5 The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RECAP) also emphasized the term reconciliation: stating that Canadians are in a position to “learn from the mistakes of the past” and develop “a national policy of reconciliation and regeneration” (RCAP 1996: vol.i, 229). In response to the Royal Commission report, the Canadian government delivered a “Statement of Reconciliation” in which it conveyed its “profound regret” to Indigenous peoples for its past policies and stated that it would undertake reconciliation as “an ongoing process” that would involve renewing treaty relationships and establishing the rights of Indigenous self-government (Canada 1998).

It is not surprising then to find the term in the BTLR but it is important to parse out the language used here, so that our exploration of what role the broadcasting and telecommunications sector might begin on similar or level footing. Colonialism, as Mills contends, “isn’t a settled (read: historical) fact regarding European arrival and indigenous displacement,” rather, it is “a relationship between settler and Indigenous peoples that continues today” (2019, p. 2). Canada’s colonial relations have long found expression in policies that work(ed) to eliminate or assimilate Indigenous peoples (Wolfe, 2006), and continue to put Indigenous peoples at tremendous economic and political disadvantage. Secondly, the concept of reconciliation is not without debate and needs to be discussed at more length in policy communities. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang reject the term “reconciliation” for its potential to placate the settler, maintaining that reconciliation “is about rescuing settler normalcy, about rescuing a settler future” (2014, p. 35). Decolonization, on the other hand, they suggest, offers “a different perspective to human and civil rights based approaches to justice, an unsettling one, rather than a complementary one” (p. 35). It is to unsettle our assumptions and recognize our obligations. While their concerns are legitimate and important, we might consider recuperating the word “reconciliation” as it has a long history and signification in both Canadian and Indigenous law.

Mark D. Walters’ thoughtful critique of the concept of reconciliation draws a connection between it and the principles of legality. Drawing on the work of Ronald Dworkin (2006) he insists that “integrity within decision-making is essential for the emergence of a community of principle — a ‘true’ community” in which citizens are active participants in the authoring of laws that calls upon a form of reconciliation as consistency” (2008, p.170). This approach, he suggests, is similar to the traditions of the Haudenosaunee and many other Indigenous peoples in North America; the Wampum treaties represent a political order not arrived at through the “coercive will of a sovereign, but through cultivating relationships of spiritual-kinship that linked individuals, clans villages, nations, and the natural world together” (Walters, 2008, p. 170; Alfred, 1999). Mills, too, evokes the wampum as an alternative to the ways in which colonialism “tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews” (2019 p. 5), and suggests it is a symbolic means of apprehending a “reflective equilibrium” (2019, p. 239). This, to my mind, is a very powerful image that seems to demand a great deal care, self-reflexivity, and response(ability), and it is for these reasons that I choose to use the term reconciliation. However, we are not there yet, not nearly, for we haven’t even determined our own “coordinates”.

The coordinates of communications in Canada

The 2019 Communications Monitoring Report indicates that only 27.7% of First Nations reserves and 32.7% of rural communities have broadband services at 50/10 Mbps.Footnote 6 This “digital divide” has been well documented and lamented, but the disparity between rural and urban regions persists. Studies have revealed that rural and remote broadband providers face distinct challenges that national policy has not effectively addressed. In its April 2018 report, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology recommended that ISED develop a comprehensive strategy in collaboration with key stakeholders, including First Nations, non-profit organizations, civil society groups, small ISPs, and all levels of government.Footnote 7

In 2019, the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities announced federal funding for Bell Canada to bring new or improved high-speed Internet access and capacity to a number of Canada’s remote and rural communities including Indigenous reserves. Given the egregious state of telecommunications infrastructure on many reserves across the country, this may seem cause for celebration, however, some of these Indigenous communities had no prior knowledge of Bell’s application to the Connect to Innovate program and subsequent awarding of federal funding to extend their network onto reserve land.Footnote 8 There were no or few consultation processes that allowed for the Indigenous communities to participate in the planning and development of the network, nor any commitments on the part of Bell in regard to quality of services, pricing, or business practices.Footnote 9  This lack of consultation with Indigenous communities raises legal, legislative, and ethical concerns, and might be understood as a form neo-colonialism.

Federal funding decisions and plans to implement infrastructural systems that involve Indigenous communities should trigger a duty to consult. The ministry’s failure to consult with Indigenous peoples before awarding Bell millions of dollars in funding is particularly grievous given Bell’s poor track record in providing service to Canadian rural and remote communities,Footnote 10 and more recently its stated reluctance to sell service providers broadband at wholesale rates, and allow for facilities access. It also raises legal questions about such a unilateral action. Any development on reserve land requires the Governor in Council to weigh the public interest with that of the Crown’s fiduciary duty. Expropriation of any reservation land, whether for the building of a tower or establishing a point of presence, must demonstrate a public need and approval of the Governor in Council.Footnote 11 It is questionable whether the Crown fulfilled its fiduciary duties to the community as there were no consultations. While the Canadian government has an obligation to consult with and accommodate Indigenous nations before granting licenses or permits for projects that involve mining, forestry, oil, and gas, its responsibility is less clear when it comes to federal grants awarded to telecommunications companies. However, given the recommendation by the BTLR report, such actions should prompt the duty to consult, if not for legal reasons, than for advancing reconciliation.

Communications homework

The communications sector’s homework (Spivak, 1990) begins with an analysis of the beliefs, biases, and assumptions that underpin and inform Canadian policy processes and practices. This cannot happen strictly within these industries’ own boundaries, whatever those may be, but involves and demands a larger socio-economic and cultural shift. Timothy Mitchell contends that while we live in the 21st century, the ways in which we think about the modern world are from the 19th century (2002). We have inherited particular world views and ways of organizing the natural and social world that are historically specific artifacts, and one might argue that the rituals and knowledge production practices of regulatory bodies, whether those of the CRTC or the Department of Canadian Heritage, are “living archives” of historical reorganization and transformation in processes of exchange and administration in the 17th and 18th centuries. An attempt to develop an archaeology of broadcasting and telecommunication policies should explore the discursive formation of policy, that is the ways in which public policy problems and “solutions” manifest in the language used (Bacchi 1999, p.37), as well as the material practices.Footnote 12

There are, of course, a number of distinct discourses, including those of national sovereignty, scientific and technological “progress”, and the “modernization” of society that offer potentially productive paths for critical analysis of Canadian policy, however, I focus on the concept of the “economy”, not only because it, as Mitchell argues, has become “the most important set of practices for organizing what appears as the separation of the real world from its representations, of things from their values, of actions from intentions, of an object world from the realm of ideas” (2002, p. 6), but because its vocabularies are so present in the Telecommunications and Broadcasting Acts. Embedded in ‘policy speak’ or public discourse around telecommunications and broadcasting are terms that have emerged from the economic ideology of neoliberalism, including privatization, deregulation, and free market competition (Davidson-Harden, 2013). The stated objectives of Canada’s  Telecommunications Act: “to foster increased reliance on market forces for the provision of telecommunications services and to ensure that regulation, where required, is efficient and effective”Footnote 13 positions the economy as the policy centre, that is, the concept that organizes how policy is made.

While Foucault brings into view the practices that shaped modern European forms of governmentally, specifically those historical and cultural practices by which the “inert objectness” of nature was constructed and new domains of economic and political calculation brought into being, Karl Polanyi’s work offers an account of the birth of the “economy” (1944). He argues that the modern world was constructed in the “Great Transformation” of the 19th century, in which market relations became dis-embedded from wider social relations and became a separate sphere. This shift that ultimately disembodied market relations from the larger social ground was judicially and politically supported, but it was also profoundly reliant on colonialism. While Polyani acknowledges the catastrophic impact the market economy had on Indigenous cultures through the disruption of their institutions (1944, p.167), Mitchell’s work on Egypt demonstrates that colonialism was not “incidental to the modern West, rather than integral to it” (2002, p. 7).Footnote 14  The various forms of technical expertise, methods of calculation, contract law, disposition of property, dispossession of labour, relationship between public and private, organization of information and government regulation were formalized in western Europe in the 19th century as ‘market exchange’ and became a worldwide project with imperial expansion. The colonial genealogies of 19th and 20th century economic discourse and practice in a Canadian context largely remains unexamined, however, much has been written about the ways in which European market economies expanded with the pillage and extraction of the resources of the Americas (Venn, 2009; Freyer 1984; Lowe 2015). As Mitchell points out, the major institutions for organizing and facilitating large-scale global trade from the 17th century were not markets, but monopolistic colonizing corporations (2002, p. 294).Footnote 15 Colonialism also provided an opportunity for distance, a space of separation that allowed for something like a case study, or “a self-contained object whose problems could be measured, analyzed, and addressed by a form of knowledge that appears to stand outside the object and grasp it in its entirety (p.100). In effect, colonialism provided “an effect of separation that helped establish this space of calculability as an object” (p.101).

As the concept of the “economy” was incorporated into European society as a mode of governing, “the new ‘neoliberal governmentality’ sought to introduce economics as the preferred mode of societal organization over and above any other in contemporary governance” (Mitchell, 2002, p. 388). As historically specific constructs, markets require the active and constant support of a range of state apparatuses, laws and policies, tariffs and export bounds, indirect wage subsidies and expertise, and of course particular subjectivities (Venn, 2009, p. 211). There is nothing ‘natural’ about free markets, rather the “economic” is “a set of regulated activities from the very beginning: it is a set of regulated activities with rules of completely different levels, forms, origins, dates, and chronologies; rules which may comprise a social habits, a religious prescription, an ethics a corporative regulation, and also a law” (Foucault, 2004, p.163). It is an “economic-juridical ensemble” that is inherently violent and colonial (p. 163).

The question then is what should be done? As I’ve suggested above, articulating one’s “positionality” or “coordinates” as individuals and collectives is a responsibility, and necessary to engage in decolonizing and reconciliatory policy theory and practice,Footnote 16 but I also propose a de-centring of the market from communications policy. While the development of an alternative policy axies or model is beyond the scope of this paper, we might do well to consider the potential that conceptions such as the social good or the commons have for the decolonization of policy.Footnote 17  The cultural expressions of a society have their own integrity, forms and decrees that are not reducible to monetary figures (Rotstein, 1986, p. 26) that are integral to a citizen’s right to contribute to the cultural sphere and public life (Raboy et al. 1994). To accept the discursive politics of neoliberal capitalism without investigating its many complex genealogies, or challenging its underlying epistemological assumptions and values, and to fail to explore other epistemes is to ignore or misunderstand the responsibilities that genuine reconciliation demands. We must acknowledge that the global political economy has been fuelled by the accumulation of capital that is extracted from Indigenous peoples’ territories (Kuokkanen, 2010, p. 67), and that there is nothing universal or natural about markets (Venn, 2009, p. 211).

Participatory reciprocity or reflective equilibrium

Leroy Littlebear’s astute observation about the limitations colonial frameworks impose upon knowledge production can be read as a challenge put forth to colonial settlers to cultivate a “multiepistemic literacy” (Kuokkanen, 2010). That is, a move away from a universalizing and colonizing perspective of the world toward a place where a dialogue between a diversity of epistemic and political approaches can be sustained; where the groundwork has been done and there are some foundations upon which to build. Arturo Escobar’s examination of critical design studies, ethnographic approaches to design, participatory design and decolonized design offer a great deal to thinking about redesigning policy that so that policy processes are understood as relational, long-term, and transformative (2018). Through an engagement with epistemological and ontological inquiry, Escobar constructs connections between various forms of knowing and the ways of being in the world that are embedded in multiplicity of relationships and practices between social actors that he terms a “pluriverse.” Engaging with the Zapatista concept of “a world where many worlds fit” (xv), he contemplates different registers of emergence, and the potential for design in the space between “the life of form” and the “form of life” ( Goodwin 1994, 2007 as quoted in Escobar, 2018). That is, a pluriverse of form and matter.Footnote 18 In the context of a colonial nation state like Canada, Indigenous law scholar, Aaron Mills proposes a “rooted constitutionalism” that is “characterized by mutual aid and its correlate structure, kinship” (2019, p. iii). His evocation of mycorrhiza as model for treaty relationships speaks to both the symbiotic relationship between certain fungi and trees, as well as the grounds in which they grow and nourish one another. The problem with colonialism then, is perhaps similar to that of an invasive species in that it smothers all other forms of life and being in the world, but unlike any botanical species, colonialism casts a shadow so dark and so deep that it breeds ignorance that in turn is violent and life-denying. 

Gerald Taiaiake Alfred offers the image of Kanien'kehaka Kaswentha (Two-Row Wampum) as a means of thinking through the balance of power in the context of relations between nations (1999). He writes, that “instead of subjugating one to the other, the  Kanien'kehaka who opened their territory to Dutch traders in the early seventeenth century negotiated an original and lasting peace based on coexistence of power in a context of respect for the autonomy and distinctive nature of each partner” (p. 52). Walters uses the term “reflective equilibrium” to apprehend a similar image, that we have “explicit propositions of law on one hand and set of abstract moral principles that they presuppose on the other” which suggests form of reconciliation as consistency or balanced tension (Walters, 2008, p.170)  Used by many Indigenous peoples, including the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee, the “belts” are composed of beads made of whelk and quahog shells, most often white and blue, or purple (Mills, 2019, p. 239).The colour differentiations between the two rows are symbolic of a “respectful (co-equal) friendship and alliance” (Alfred 1999, 52). They “reflect” a balance or equilibrium between two distinct, but equal life ways.

In 1836, Sir Francis Bond Head, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, wrote a letter to the Colonial secretary on the practice and significance of wampum belts in constituting treaty kinship. On wampums he wrote, “the hieroglyphics are moral affidavits of the bye-gone transactions to which they relate — on our part, little or nothing documentary exists — the promises which were made, whatever they might have been, were almost invariably verbal; those who expressed them are now mouldering in their graves” (as cited in Mills 2019, p. 240). The lack of documentation he references demonstrates a profound misunderstanding or disregard, ignorance or arrogance, or both on the part of the colonial officers and settlers who entered into such sacred agreements. The only thing worse perhaps than the failure to honour the profound commitment to peace and friendship and respect by our (settler) ancestors, is that we (settlers) have still not done the necessary work of cultivating the grounds upon which we will walk with Indigenous peoples toward reconciliation. Ignorant of Canada’s violent colonial history, and blind to the privilege and power that it has afforded, settler interests have “settle[d] permanently, absolutely, and unjustifiably” atop Indigenous constitutional orders so that they cannot be practiced or recognized (Mills 2019, p. 194). Mills suggests that to realize Indigenous-settler reconciliation we must reject of settler supremacy, and cultivate a curiosity about other forms of law or legislation (p. 194), policy or poetics.Footnote 19

Walking-with and the duty to consult

The duty to consult has generated a great deal of discussion on its merits and shortcomings.  Gordon Christie suggests that it is essentially an assimilative tool as it “does not operate to merge or reconcile self-understood Aboriginal visions of land use with Crown visions” instead, the Crown maintains its vision and the duty to consult functions as only an opportunity to modify that vision (2005, p. 45-6).  Heather Dorries points out that the effort to reach consensus can have the effect of “neutralizing Indigenous sovereignty claims while affirming the political legitimacy asserted by the state” (2012, p. 156). In discussing the court decision in Delgamuukw, D’Arcy Vermette registers the concern that economic development can infringe upon Indigenous rights, and courts seem more interested in “protecting federal powers rather than protecting Indigenous rights” (2011, p.63). Other scholars have suggested that the Supreme Court trilogy, by emphasizing that the honour of the Crown is at stake in its dealings with Indigenous peoples, rejects the Crown’s “intention of substantially addressing the concerns of the aboriginal peoples” impacted.Footnote 20 Like Mills, Kiera Ladner believes that while the Supreme Court is a colonial institution that is “charged with the responsibility of defending the Crown’s sovereignty,” (2009, p. 286) there is potential for the development of “a legal and epistemic pluralism” in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians “could rediscover good relations and live together on the shared land more compatibly.”Footnote 21 But, as Ariss, Fraser & Somani suggest, for a policy such as the duty to consult to have real effect, it must be grounded in nation-to-nation relationships, and respect for Indigenous self-determination (2011, p. 52). The duty to consult must be done in good faith and in full collaboration with Indigenous peoples and communities so that it is not reduced to a mere technical exercise. I propose the practice of walking-with as a means of thinking about the duty to consult, for not only does it evoke the experience of steps, rhythm, and companionship, but gives a sense of the territoriality of policy. We tend to think of the halls and rooms of legislative and bureaucratic edifices, but policy also “happens” in places, often very far from Ottawa and other urban centres. A practice of walking-with as a means of consulting and collaborating with Indigenous communities brings the land and its inhabitants more into a more immediate presence, one that is both unsettling and creative.

 A number of policy scholars have identified the “struggle over causal definitions of problems” as “contests over basic structures of social organization” (Stone, 1988, p. 162). Embedded in the ways in which “problems” are often represented in policy proposals, are explicit or implicit diagnosis (Bacchi, 1999). It is the colonial state and the social sciences that have more often than not determined what is, and what isn’t an “Indian problem” with little or no real consultation with Indigenous peoples. Before addressing any perceived issue or “problem”, Indigenous communities must be involved in the identification of a problem, as well as the design of the consultation processes (Ariss, Fraser & Somani, 2011, p. 51). Dorries’ research indicates that Indigenous peoples do not want to be consulted as “stakeholders” in planning processes,Footnote 22 that stakeholder consultation can undermine Indigenous authority and fails to take Indigenous law and political authority into consideration (2012, p. 153). Furthermore, she finds that involvement of Indigenous communities and individuals in the early stages of problem identification and the design of consultations has resulted in the development of novel planning practices (195). Ariss, Fraser, and Somani also stress the importance of allowing for a “broad range of possibilities for, and in response to consultation frames, results, and accommodations” to promote creativity in the negotiations (2011, p. 51). To walk-with or engage in a practice of duty to consult calls for an “engagement session”; it calls for a commitment that extends beyond the hours of a consultation period.Footnote 23

A walking-with approach to the duty to consult also demands an adaptation of rhythm and time frames. With more complex governance structures, and more community participation, Indigenous owned and operated telecommunications and broadcasting companies and cooperatives require more time to develop policy proposals and responses.Footnote 24 In her inquiry into a commons as a resource for new approaches to science, Isabelle Stengers proposes a slowing down of the sciences, of the development of a scientific practice that involves “an active taking into account of the plurality of the sciences” (2017, p. 57) and is in dialogue with “recalcitrant protagonists” who unsettle assumptions and stated “matters of concern” (2017, p. 66).  She suggests that science needs to develop a relationship with a “public intelligence” that pays attention to the possibilities that were not taken into account in the production of scientific studies (2018, p. 9),Footnote 25 and this requires both the development of “connoisseurs’ of various knowledges and inclusive timeframes. Telecommunications and broadcasting regulatory entities would do well to consider this, for if the persistence of the digital and media representation disparities are to be effectively addressed, Indigenous communities and companies must be able to partake more fully in policy making processes.

Current policy processes, whether those of telecommunications or healthcare, involve very few actors, most of whom have vested interests in the policies, and while the state may make gestures to include the public, it offers very few resources and time for the development of a public intelligence. For a public intelligence to be formed, we need to engage in a collective process in which lines of inquiry, theories and ‘viable’ facts are collaboratively constructed (Stengers, 2018) as well as the development of questions that are relevant to the everyday lives of citizens, and possibilities that have not been taken into account. It is to develop “situated knowledges” (Haraway, 1988) that acknowledge the particularities that have actively linked questions to the various ways of working toward responses, as well as the existence of those who ask different questions (Stengers, 2018, p. 45). It is to resist the appropriation of knowledge for an abstract ideal (p. 45) while effectively addressing and taking into account the everyday lives of those who are impacted by the policies.

The development of a public intelligence that is engaged with policy procedures and processes demands a temporality that resists the speed and “risk-taking ethos of promissory and anxious futuristic technoscience” (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017, p. 208). Policy decisions in telecommunications are often positioned as impediments to the deployment of better and faster technologies that will improve the lives and well-being of customers. While the various regulatory boards have certainly lagged behind in addressing digital disparities and inequities in service provision in Canada for rural and remote communities, as well as the economically disadvantaged, the telecommunications ethos is very much about capturing the revenue potential of new technologies.

Paths forward

Policies shape the course of future politics (Sidney, 2007, p. 85), and as such, they are important tools in “securing the democratic promise for all people” (Ingram and Schneider, 2005, p. 2). The BTLR offers a unique opportunity to reflect on what reconciliation means for Canada’s telecommunications and broadcasting sectors beyond the formation of commissions and formal apologies. We must reject what Glen Coulthard terms “the politics of recognition” (2014), that is, the acknowledgment of Indigenous peoples that is in name only, and is not grounded in a decolonizing politics and practices.

The work of decolonizing is difficult, and often unsettling, as it demands that we face the uncomfortable truth that the settler state hasn’t failed Indigenous peoples and their legal and political traditions, but rather sought to annihilate and replace them (Mills, 209, p. 194). It calls upon us to unearth and analyze the complex genealogies of our policies, to investigate the beliefs and assumptions inscribed on this living artefacts. It is to “unlearn” the privilege of nation-state sanctioned ignorance (Sundberg 2014, p. 39), so that we begin to understand where we actually stand in these lands and waters we call Canada.

The use of the concept and language of reconciliation is a commitment to decolonizing politics and practices. It is to develop multi-epistemic knowledges so that we might begin to pay attention to all that have been neglected by the colonial gaze and intellect (Stengers 2015, p. 62), and learn to “think, feel, and act” in ways that are “rooted” and relational (Mills, 2019, p. 281). It is to learn to walk-with Indigenous peoples and so that we might chart a path into the future that is consistent, and respectful. It is to consider what it means to maintain a “reflective equilibrium” between the laws and policies that shape our lives, and the ethics and values that inform them. This essay has offered three tentative paths for consideration with the hope that others will thoughtfully forge forward and begin to explore what reconciliation really means.

Works cited

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