Chasing Truth and (Re)Conciliation: Navigating Contexts, Tensions, Limits and Possibilities

Guest editor(s)

Rick Colbourne


Ana Maria Peredo

Submissions open 1st April 2022


Since the 1970s, many governments have been forced to address the demands of thousands of victims of historical systemic violence. Commissions in search of the truth and considering means of reconciliation were established in many countries, including Argentina, Uganda, Chile, El Salvador, South Africa, Guatemala, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Ghana, East Timor, Peru, Rwanda, Morocco, Liberia, Canada among others. It was often assumed that knowing the truth would lead to reconciliation, and the relationship is still not certain. Still, it was not until South Africa in 1995 that the word 'reconciliation’ was added to the title of commissions aimed at truth-seeking. It seems that the word ‘reconciliation’ added a level of accountability and possibilities for action. According to Hayner, "A truth commission can promote reconciliation, outline needed reforms, allow victims a cathartic airing of their pains, and represent an important, official acknowledgment of a long-silenced past" (1996, p. 19). In other words, reconciliation has been seen as a potential tool to deliver justice for people, communities and nations to live in the present and to move into a better future.

In Canada, Indigenous community members and their allies gathered in 2021 during the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to reflect on residential schools' dark legacy and call on all Canadians to understand and act on the legacies of colonization. Murray Sinclair, former Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, stated that “getting to the truth was hard, but getting to the reconciliation is going to be harder” (Sinclair, 2021). Wakerakatste Louise McDonald Herne, Bear Clan Mother for the Mohawk Nation Council, called on Canadians to "know the history of this country and the corruption it was built upon. You need to correct the wrongs, and you have to own your own truth" (CBC, 2021); Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda observed that the discovery of unmarked graves near former residential schools sites has awakened the country to its history, "Two-hundred and fifteen little voices woke the country, 215 voices spoke to the world," (CBC, 2021); National Chief RoseAnne Archibald extolled that acknowledging the past is only a first step toward reconciliation and that "[t]rue reconciliation is about learning, sharing and growing as a country." Governor-General Mary May Simon intoned that Canadians need to face "uncomfortable truths… [and that as] we strive to acknowledge the horrors of the past, the suffering inflicted on Indigenous peoples, let us all stand side-by-side with grace and humility, and work together to build a better future for all... [r]econciliation is a way of life, continuous, with no end date. It is learning from our lived experiences and understanding one another. It is creating the necessary space for us to heal. It is planting seeds of hope and respect so that our garden blooms for our children" (CBC, 2021).

These experiences and sentiments are not unique to Canada's Indigenous peoples. Globally, the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples are characterized by a shared history of dispossession (loss of land, resources, sovereignty, language and culture); delegitimization and suppression (Indigenous ways of knowing and being), anti-Indigenous racism, forced assimilation and formal systemic exclusion (limited or no access to socioeconomic participation, education and engagement) (Colbourne, 2017; Henry, Newth, & Spiller, 2017; Newhouse, 2001; Peredo & Chrisman, 2006). Indigenous peoples and communities worldwide are demanding a reckoning and a dismantling of anti-Indigenous racist settler-colonial institutions and compensation and return of lands. Truth and reconciliation commissions have been established in many countries with large populations of Indigenous Peoples such as Peru, El Salvador, and Guatemala (Peredo, 2019). There, Indigenous peoples and their communities have been the target of political violence, while populations and elites in big cities were unaware of Indigenous genocide taking place in marginalized rural and urban areas (Degregori et al., 2012). In Australia, a mobilization of Aboriginal peoples in 1972 called attention to their situation of dispossession and the danger of their cultural survival, led to the creation of the Council for Reconciliation of Indigenous Peoples and the establishment of the Sorry Day in 1998 (Short, 2003). Countries such as Uganda set up Truth Commissions after the displacement more than 1.6 million people (Quinn, 2006) many of them probably Indigenous and not legally recognized by the government.

While TRC commissions as a tool symbolize a hope for a new start and have been implemented in diverse socio-cultural contexts, their effectiveness has been questioned.  Over the past thirty years, settler states have responded with settler state-centric commissions or institutional mechanisms of 'truth' and 'reconciliation' that seek to move past and draw a line under legacies of colonization (Coulthard, 2014). These commissions are characterized by (i) conflicts and tensions related to recognizing the breadth and depth of historical settler-colonial injustices and the cross-generational effects on Indigenous peoples, (ii) government attempts to reassert sovereignty and legal authority over Indigenous peoples and their claims (Coulthard, 2014) and (iii) attempt to legitimate anti-Indigenous policies and practices and delegitimize Indigenous peoples perspectives and critiques of colonization and oppression (Corntassel, Chaw-win-is, & T’lakwadzi, 2009, p. 139; Jung, 2010). In reality, while truth and reconciliation commissions might signal a commitment to addressing historical wrongs and challenging anti-Indigenous systemic barriers that perpetuate settler state injustices, the lack of clear calls for action and accountability serves to silence Indigenous voices, reinforce state sovereignty and (re)colonize the Indigenous peoples it was meant to reconcile with (Corntassel et al., 2009; Coulthard, 2014).

Aims and Scope

This Special Issue seeks to provide a forum for critical engagement with notions of 'truth', 'reconciliation' (Amundsen, 2018; Anker, 2014; Toon & Goldsmith, 2007), and 'transitional justice' (Jennifer Balint & Evans, 2010; J. Balint, Evans, & McMillan, 2014; Laplante, 2008) through encouraging Indigenous and allied voices to interrogate the historical injustices of settler colonialism in context of the establishment, organization and/or operation of local, regional, national and international mechanisms of truth and reconciliation. This special issue aims to bring together Indigenous and allied voices to illuminate the complex nature of constituting truth, reconciliation, and transitional justice in settler states that developed oppressive racist institutions, practices, and protocols that impacted generations of Indigenous peoples. We welcome theoretical, empirical and comparative contributions from multiple disciplines such as business, management, Indigenous studies, sociology, philosophy, law, health studies and others.

Questions and topics of interest to this special issue include but are not limited to:

  • What are the possibilities for truth, reconciliation and transitional justice in settler-colonial states?
  • What does 'truth' and 'reconciliation" mean in a settler context, for non-Indigenous settlers and for the Indigenous peoples with whom they seek to reconcile?
  • What are the mechanisms of settler colonial processes and structures of truth, reconciliation and transitional justice, and how can these be challenged to ensure actions that benefit Indigenous peoples?
  • What is the role of broader political and legal contexts, frameworks, laws, governance structures and accountability mechanisms that assert and perpetuate settler state power and sovereignty in state-sanctioned processes of truth and reconciliation?
  • How can postcolonial and/or settler colonial theory inform the development of new transitional justice models (J. Balint et al., 2014) that benefit Indigenous peoples?
  • What are the comparative experiences of Indigenous peoples with TRC Commissions?
  • What are the conceptual, attitudinal, and political limits to policies and practices of reconciliation in settler states (Toon & Goldsmith, 2007)?
  • What spaces for improved Indigenous research currently exist in post-secondary institutions upon which we can build? What are key challenges to be faced in this process? How can such challenges be overcome (McGregor, 2017)?

These research questions are by no means exhaustive. We encourage submissions that push the boundaries and scope of current understandings of truth, reconciliation and transitional justice and promote new, distinctive lines of inquiry. We welcome cross-disciplinary empirical (e.g., qualitative, field, experimental, meta-analytic reviews) and conceptual (e.g., theory development and integrative reviews) contributions that foster new directions in research, advance Indigenous and ally bodies of knowledge, and provide clear and actionable recommendations to guide future scholarship.

Please send your inquiries about the special issue to Rick Colbourne, [email protected].

The deadline for submission is 1st August, 2022. Submissions are accepted starting April 1, 2022 and should be made through ScholarOne at:  Author guidelines and format for submitted manuscripts can be found on the journal's website: 

Guest Editors:

Rick Colbourne, Carleton University, Canada

Ana Maria Peredo, University of Ottawa and University of Victoria, Canada 


 ADDIN EN.REFLIST Amundsen, D. (2018). Decolonisation through reconciliation: The role of Pākehā identity. MAI Journal: A New Zealand Journal of Indigenous Scholarship, 7(2). doi:10.20507/maijournal.2018.7.2.3

Anker, K. (2014). Symptoms of Sovereignty? Apologies, Indigenous Rights and Reconciliation in Australia and Canada. In P. Zumbansen & R. Buchanen (Eds.), Law in Transition: Human Rights, Development and Transitional Justice (pp. 245-267). Oxford, United Kingdom: Hart Publishing.

Balint, J., & Evans, J. (2010). Transitional  Justice and Settler  States. Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Critical Criminology Conference, Sydney, Australia.

Balint, J., Evans, J., & McMillan, N. (2014). Rethinking Transitional Justice, Redressing Indigenous Harm: A New Conceptual Approach. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 8(2), 194-216. doi:10.1093/ijtj/iju004

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Coulthard, G. S. (2014). Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition: University of Minnesota Press.

Degregori, C. I., Stern, S. J., Appelbaum, N., Drzewieniecki, J., Flores, H., & Hershberg, E. (2012). How difficult it is to be god: Shining Path's politics of war in Peru, 1980–1999. Madison, United States: University of Wisconsin Press.

Hayner, P. B. (1996). International Guidelines for the Creation and Operation of Truth Commissions: A Preliminary Proposal. Law and Contemporary Problems, 59(4), 173-180.

Henry, E., Newth, J., & Spiller, C. (2017). Emancipatory Indigenous social innovation: Shifting power through culture and technology. Journal of Management & Organization, 23(6), 786-802. doi:10.1017/jmo.2017.64

Jung, C. (2010). Canada and the Legacy of the Indian Residential Schools: Transitional Justice for Indigenous People in a Nontransitional Society. In P. Arthur (Ed.), Identities in Transition: Challenges for Transitional Justice in Divided Societies (pp. 217-250). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Laplante, L. J. (2008). Transitional Justice and Peace Building: Diagnosing and Addressing the Socioeconomic Roots of Violence through a Human Rights Framework. International Journal of Transitional Justice, 2(3), 331-355. doi:10.1093/ijtj/ijn031

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Newhouse, D. R. (2001). Resistance is Futile: Aboriginal peoples Meet the Borg of Capitalism. Journal of Aboriginal Economic Development (JAED), 2(1), 75-82.

Peredo, A. M. (2019). El buen vivir: Notions of wellbeing among Indigenous peoples of South America. In C. Fleming & M. Manning (Eds.), Routledge Handbook of Indigenous Wellbeing (pp. 156-169). London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

Peredo, A. M., & Chrisman, J. J. (2006). Toward a Theory of Community-Based Enterprise. Academy of Management Review, 31(2), 309-328. doi:10.5465/amr.2006.20208683

Quinn, J. R. (2006). Beyond Truth Commissions: Indigenous Reconciliation in Uganda The Review of Faith and International Affairs, 4(1), 31-37. doi:10.1080/15570274.2006.9523235

Short, D. (2003). Reconciliation, Assimilation, and the Indigenous Peoples of Australia. International Political Science Review, 24(4), 491-513. doi:10.1177/01925121030244005

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Toon, v. M., & Goldsmith, M. (2007). Colonial grievances, justice and reconciliation in the Pacific. Journal de la société des océanistes(125), 201-207. doi:10.4000/jso.908