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President David Barnard sits with Visionary Conversations panelists.

Visionary Conversations asks: what does a decolonized Canada look like?

December 17, 2019 — 

More than 400 people gathered at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights on Dec. 11 to hear leading experts discuss how we can build a country based on mutual respect and fairness between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Elder Margaret Lavallee, a member of Sagkeeng First Nation and resident Elder at Ongomiizwin – Indigenous Institute of Health and Healing, began the evening by “asking a blessing for this very important topic we engage in. We have much to learn and much to talk about, but so little time to do it,” she said while holding an eagle feather.

Drs. Emma LaRocque, Michael Yellow Bird, Cary Miller and Katherine Starzyk provided their perspectives on the topic for this second Visionary Conversations discussion this fall.

Visionary Conversations brings people together to explore tough questions and foster conversations that provoke dialogue and debate, a series initiated by UM’s President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. David Barnard a decade ago. 

“Although our definitions, hopes, and expectations for action may differ, we are united in our belief that in order to create a fair and just space for ourselves and future generations, we need to unravel the threads of colonization that are so tightly woven into the foundations of our country and continue to have damaging effects in our society,” said Barnard in his opening remarks, before the panelists shared their perspectives on what a decolonized Canada may look like.

“Decolonization, for me, is how we begin to unload the toxicity of colonization,” said Yellow Bird, Dean of the Faculty of Social Work. He explored how the unequal balance of power between colonizer and colonized has created a toxic dynamic. “The strongest can pull out of the deal they don’t want.”

“Colonization is about power, privilege and control and that means and has meant that First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples have had to, and continue to, struggle against structured and cultural forces that impact them in unequal terms,” said LaRocque. “There is nothing fair or respectful about colonization.”

Miller reflected back to her grade six history class where in flipping through her textbook, scanning for Indigenous content, and got to the end of her textbook –  feeling scathed by the realization that her people had been erased from history.

When asked to think about their answers to: “What does what we know as Canada today look like, decolonized?” LaRocque sees “no racism, no stereotypes, no poverty” while Yellow Bird sees “a family, kinship, reciprocity that includes an exchange of values, both material, social and spiritual.”

As the discussion reached its conclusion, Miller suggested that actions individuals can take toward decolonization is to work on these relationships. Starzyk recommended seeking learning opportunities about reconciliation through the works of Indigenous authors, the TRC reports and the work of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.


Missed the Visionary Conversations panel discussion, What does a decolonized Canada look like? Watch it here.


Dr. Emma LaRocque
Professor, Native Studies, Faculty of Arts
University of Manitoba

Dr. Cary Miller
Associate Professor and Head, Native Studies
University of Manitoba

Dr. Katherine Starzyk
Associate Professor, Social and Personality Psychology;
Director, Social Justice Laboratory, University of Manitoba

Dr. Michael Yellow Bird
Professor and Dean, Faculty of Social Work
University of Manitoba

Mark your calendars for the next Visionary Conversations on March 5, 2020 –  How can our community come together to combat the impacts of drug addiction?

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