At the recent Community Foundations of Canada conference, one of the many themes that emerged was Canada as a source of hope in worldwide human rights and reconciliation.
The conference, which took place in Winnipeg from June 6 to 8, brought together 600 professionals from around the world.
Alexandre Trudeau, president of JuJu Films, director of the Trudeau Foundation and son of the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, presented a compelling speech on June 7. Trudeau’s experience as a journalist in third-world and war-torn countries has shown him that even the remotest cultures across the world are interested in and have a knowledge of current human rights issues.
While reflecting on historical human rights violations that were a result of policies meant “to conquer and civilize” or to dominate trade or resources, Trudeau stressed the world is at a pivotal time in history. Thanks to the information age we have the opportunity to create a more just society. The West no longer has outright dominance and we are now coming to an age where other countries have resources to barter at the world table, he said.
Canada is in a rare position, as we are very resource-rich which gives us “elbow room,” and has become a source of hope for the rest of the world as a human rights leader.
Trudeau emphasized that the collateral social damage of violence is long term and that people are better off with the rights of others respected, which provides tremendous opportunity for philanthropic giving.
Statements similar to Trudeau’s were expressed during a June 6 conference panel discussion, which featured The Winnipeg Foundation’s Marie Bouchard, Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada’s James Stauch, and United Way of Winnipeg’s Bruce Miller. The topic was, Winnipeg as a leader in Reconciliation in the Philanthropic Community.
The panel stated that Canada is at a pivotal point in our history. The disconnect and disparity between the mainstream and Aboriginal communities has to do with laws in history, 150 years of a Victorian view of charity-based philanthropy, the outlawing of Aboriginal customs, and our cultural and linguistic differences. If we approach reconciliation and philanthropy in a collective, respectful and helpful manner we have a significant possibility to move forward in a way that benefits both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. This includes a nation-wide acknowledgement of the past wrongs, the panel said.
To share what you have and to give without expectation is at the root of Aboriginal culture. The historical example of First Nations bringing willow tree bark to a group of early Canadian explorers in the middle of winter so that they were able to survive was cited as the earliest example of Canadian philanthropy.
Stauch reminded participants that other Aboriginal philanthropic customs such as potlatch and pow-wow were outlawed in Canadian history and that philanthropy as an ethos regarding residential schools is a class study of the ugliness in the goal to do good, when pity-based charity is the motivator.
Bouchard made several thought-provoking suggestions about what is needed to bring everyone to the table for reconciliation and effective, sustainable philanthropy. These included encouraging people to stop talking and to listen, wait to be invited and to be respectful; to be service-oriented and strive for partnership rather than charity; to educate themselves on the history and cultural diversity within the Aboriginal community and languages; and to trust and appreciate the many leaders within the Aboriginal community.
The panel stated community foundation best practices are changing, as are the emergence of hybrid-institutions that are breaking down the division between private, public and government sectors. Participants were reminded that community foundations are all here for the same reasons: trying to build a relationship on trust and understanding. There is no simple answer to reverse the violations of human rights in Canadian culture. It starts with personal reconciliation, an attitude shift, and a sensitivity to understand Aboriginal philanthropy.