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At 150, Canada’s Grades Are Mixed at Best

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Friday, June 2, 2017

Guest blog by Caleb Snider, Congress 2017 blogger

The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences brings together leading thinkers, academics, researchers, policy-makers and innovators to explore some of the world’s most challenging issues. Congress celebrates the vitality and quality of Canadian research contributions, and helps train the next generation of Canadian ideas leadership. This year’s theme “The Next 150, on Indigenous Lands" celebrates the history, legacy and achievements of the peoples and territories that make us who we are, and anticipates the boundless opportunities of the future. Organized by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, this year’s Congress is being hosted by Ryerson University in Toronto from May 27-June 2. Follow this series of Big Picture at #congressh blogs.

Canadians have plenty to be proud of after 150 years of Confederation, but we still have very far to go toward creating a truly equitable society. The panel of speakers asked to evaluate our nation at Grading Canada at 150 all spoke about Canada’s past and present with stark honesty and laid out recommendations for the future to help us avoid repeating our past mistakes in the next 150 years.

James Bartleman, past Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and a veteran of the Canadian foreign service, was perhaps the most positive of the speakers, pointing out that Canada’s multicultural society is the envy of the world, but reminded the audience that the Indigenous population of this country doesn’t share that envy or have a rightful place in that society.

Professor Veronica Strong-Boag (UBC) spoke about language, about how lies haunt the evolution of the English language, how the commentary of Canada has abounded with deception, and that linguistic disrespect such as ethnic or gender slurs are ultimately used to justify violent repression and forced consent, either by individuals or governments.

Professor Eugénie Brouillet, George Elliott Clarke, and Jean-François Nadeau each spoke about the history of Canada as a constitution of many parts. While Professor Brouillet celebrated Confederation as a contract of compromise among many parties, Clarke pointed to our history and currently reality as a society deeply stratified along racial and class lines, one that can only be made equitable though a redistribution of power and wealth.

In perhaps the panel’s most impassioned talk, Jean Teillet spoke about why the theme of this year’s congress and the celebration of 150 years of confederation is difficult for her as the grandniece of Louis Riel. She spoke about the hidden history of Canada’s broken promises to the Métis people, of the “reign of terror” perpetuated by “the Canadas” and John A. Macdonald in Manitoba from 1870–1873, and the injustices that are still perpetuated today as the Métis are still denied their land rights.

The panel may not have agreed on everything, especially the subject of forgiveness and forgetting with regard to our nation’s past wrongs towards Indigenous peoples and people of colour, but the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences isn’t always about reaching a consensus: it is about opening a dialogue between different voices, all of whom have something to contribute to the betterment of the academy and the nation.

Grading Canada at 150 was a panel made up of James Karl Bartleman, Professor Veronica Strong-Boag, Professor Eugénie Brouillet, George Elliott Clarke, Jean-François Nadeau, and Jean Teillet, and was hosted by the Canadian Historical Association (CHA) at Congress 2017. Professor Michael Bliss was scheduled to attend as well but passed away on May 18, 2017.

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