This Tuesday, November 4 is an evening with John Ralston Saul in support of his new book The Comeback, with guests Leah Gazan and Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, and a musical performance by Rebecca Chartrand, hosted by Michael Redhead Champagne.
People have said of John Ralston Saul’s writing, “I’ve always thought that but never knew how to say it.”
Several years back, when I first heard him eloquently describe his ideas on CBC radio, I was compelled to hear him out while sitting in my car, in a dark Superstore parking lot. It was like a moment of discovery – an “ah hah” moment.
I was a university student at the time and later jumped at the chance to see Saul in person at a University of Winnipeg conference called, Doing Theology in a Fair Country (May, 2010). Obviously, there were folks from the ecumenical community who wanted a chance to dialogue with Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians about the context of truth and reconciliation.
Although few Indigenous peoples were present, I was thrilled to be joined at my table by Elder Dave Courchene from Sakeeng First Nation. He enthusiastically invited me to visit Turtle Lodge, and attend an international gathering focused on environmentalism.
Saul discussed A Fair Country (2008), his previous book which reframes the way we think about ourselves as Canadians and our history. He argues that our multicultural nation was influenced and shaped by First Nations and Metis ways of accepting and absorbing newcomers, living with an egalitarian approach to diversity.
Now, I understand First Nations, Metis and Inuit to be at the core of our national identity. To believe otherwise is a denial of our historic roots. We are in the process of reclaiming that great gift, circular understanding of inclusion, given to us by the First Nations and Metis. Saul says, we are in fact, a Metis Nation.
We struggle to overcome notions of a forced hierarchical model of assimilation, with Indigenous peoples relegated to the margins of society. That year, I bought seven copies of A Fair Country for Christmas gifts to distribute to friends and family.
One thing that really stuck with me was when Saul (who is by the way, married to former Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson) said, “When the young Aboriginal people stand up and speak, Canadians will stop and take notice.”
That notion drives me as a teacher to stand behind the Indigenous students in the classroom and take every opportunity I have to teach all students, past and present, Indigenous contributions, values, history and contemporary issues as I know them.
This Tuesday, one young strong voice, Michael Redhead Champagne, will host the discussion.
Every Friday at 6 p.m., Champagne courageously leads gatherings known as Meet Me at the Bell Tower in Winnipeg’s North End, at Selkirk and Powers.
This dynamic young leader was front and centre throughout the mayoral campaign, encouraging youth to become politically literate and engaged. In fact, Champagne invited all mayoral candidates to Neechi Commons. This is how I met mayoral candidate, Robert Falcon Ouellette.
I would not be writing this had Champagne not posted a recommendation to attend the Community News Commons workshops.
Over the years, I have become aware of strong players in Winnipeg’s Indigenous community. Although, I have merely flipped through my new copy of The Comeback, I can say without a doubt, Winnipeggers should recognize the strong voices represented in Saul’s nod to the vanguard of educated Indigenous thinkers and actors.
I look forward to Tuesday’s discussion. Leah Gazan, from the University of Winnipeg Faculty of Education and president of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg recently hosted the Indigenous Peoples in City Planning briefing for mayoral candidates.
Rebecca Chartrand, a well recognized educator as well as professional musician, recently ran for city councilor in Point Douglas, recognizing a need for a female Indigenous voice on council.
Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair (whose father Justice Murray Sinclair is chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission) has powerful words included the The Comeback, his “remarkarkable letter to the editor of the Morris Mirror”. I once heard Sinclair say, as a keynote speaker, “Canada is not a nation. It is an experiment.”
Show is at 7:30 in the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and tickets are available at McNally Robinson Booksellers for $15.