chapter  8
17 Pages

The healing state?: residential schools and reparations in Canada


What does the state do when it engages in reparative processes? Moreover, how do we assess the role of the state in reparations? In many respects, the state’s capacity as distributor of public goods and opportunities, and as sanctifier of official truths, marks its contribution to reparative politics. However, the state does more than compensate and acknowledge the past when it takes part in reparations. The state also works on itself, the nation and victims through policies of redress. When we speak of the state, however, it is important to note that the state is not a monolith; it is a space where multiple actors compete over various forms of power. Such a notion is captured in the works of Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc Wacquant, who understand the state as a “splintered space of forces vying over the definition and distribution of public goods” (Wacquant 2009: 289; see also Bourdieu 1994, 1999). In short, the state is understood from this perspective as a diverse field of activity – Bourdieu (1994) refers to this as the bureaucratic field – in which institutions and actors affiliated with the state collectively negotiate its many dimensions. In this chapter, an understanding of the state as a set of competitive interactions within the bureaucratic field is used to analyze state involvement in collective healing projects, such as that currently underway in Canada under the auspices of the 2006 Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement (IRSSA). The IRSSA is built around two distinct parts: compensation and a truth and reconciliation commission, accompanied by a formal apology. My primary focus will be on the compensation and the official apology,2 and I will demonstrate that these reparative measures have not met with widespread approval from Indigenous residential school survivors. Based upon survivor criticisms of these measures, I will contend that the state’s involvement in redress reflects colonial and neoliberal tendencies within Canada’s bureaucratic field.