Fabienne Colas: Tonight we hope to dive into all these facets of what it means to be witness to history. We will be speaking with four experts to hear more about their work and their perspectives on the changing world around us.
So without further ado, I'd like to introduce you to our four exceptional panelists. Dr. Laura Madokoro is a historian and associate professor in the department of history at Carleton University. She is currently researching the history of sanctuary in North America. Welcome Laura.
Dr. Adele Perry is a settler historian who has taught at the University of Manitoba since 2000. Her research addresses histories of gender, race, and colonization in western Canada in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. Bonjour Adele.
A graduate from the faculty of law at the University of Montreal, Simon Telles has dedicated the beginning of his career to the defense of rights of the student community and accessibility. At university, he has held various functions in union syndicates in Quebec as well as Canada. Good day Simon.
And finally, Dr. Cheryl Thompson, an assistant professor in the school of creative industries, faculty of communication and design at Ryerson University. Dr. Thompson’s current SSHRC insight development grant funded research explores how Toronto’s newspapers editorialized about theater where blackface minstrelsy was performed between the 1930s… between actually the 1870s and the 1930s. So welcome Dr. Thompson.
Bonsoir and welcome to you all to this great important conversation and T remind everybody that at any time you can ask questions by getting back to the first page where you can have the Q and A box.
At any time you can ask questions by coming back in the previous tab where you still have the button for asking questions. And you can keep both tabs open: the one for the video and the Q and A.
I’d like to start by welcoming you all and asking this question that is fundamental tonight. This forum is titled “Witness to History: Living Through Exceptional Times,” so I'd like to start with Laura. Laura, what does that mean to you?
Dr. Laura Madokoro: Merci Fabienne, good evening to all. Thank you for having me this evening for the opportunity to answer the question first. I would have liked to hear from my fellow panelists, but I'm going to jump in because it is a very important question.
I do want to say that I’m speaking tonight from my home in Ottawa which is on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation and I want to express my profound gratitude to Elder Commanda for her for her generous welcome that I think really set an important tone for what we're going to be talking about tonight. So this question of what it means to live through exceptional times and to be a witness to history…I think it is an important one, but for me it begs the question of why should living through an exceptional time be any different from the history that we live through on a day-to-day basis.
One of the things that I've been really humbled by in over the course of the past year, not only because of the pandemic but because of various social movements and various forms of political activities, is a real sense of how little I know about what other people are going through.
I might imagine what my neighbour is experiencing but all of our experiences have been so different and I think it's a really, really important lesson for historians as we look to the past and try and draw broad conclusions about what people might have been living through 100 years ago, 10 years ago.
It’s even difficult for us to presume to know what people are living through in this current moment, and so if anything, this idea of an “exceptional time” I think has made me exceptionally aware of how different everyone's experiences are.
And we can look for affinities and solidarities, but I think we also have to be really mindful of very different circumstances, very different priorities and different ways of negotiating our daily lives in the moment in the current moment.
Fabienne: Thank you. Adele Perry, the term “history,” that is something that refers to the past, what is it that make us recognize we are living in a kind of historical moment right now? Do you… before asking this question, do you do you think we are living in a historical moment right now?
Dr. Adele Perry: Absolutely. I think some of the moments we live through, it can be easier to get away from the fact that we are living through and making history, sometimes in ways that we can chart and sometimes in ways that we have very little control over.
But certainly the pandemic is a moment where the historicity of our own lives, I think, is crystal clear and that's a really good reminder for all of us to think about the ways in which the past and the present are never entirely separated.
History isn't something that ends easily at one point. It's the only thing that can explain some of the many things we're talking about at this gathering.
Whether it's the uptick in anti-Asian racism that's associated in the early days the pandemic, whether it's the ongoing crisis of anti-Black violence, whether it is the ongoing crisis of structural racism visited against Indigenous people and shown so clearly in cases of massive medical negligence and racism that led to the death of people like Joyce Echaquan just a few weeks ago, all of these are events that only make sense and only can be rendered clear and legible if we understand that our own present is shaped by the past.
And this is a moment where we can see that and I think in really powerful ways and it's ways that I hope we can carry forward beyond this moment.
Fabienne: Merci Adele. Simon, it prepares the question I’m going to ask to you because we're talking a lot about involuntary consequences a bit indirectly, as Laura and Adele explained earlier on. Could you talk about the involuntary consequences of this crisis, and crises in general? What are the involuntary consequences, what are some of the challenges and opportunities coming from the period of crisis in general and for this particular crisis in itself?
Simon Telles: Yes, absolutely, it’s a super interesting question. A crisis disrupts a society and all of its foundations. A crisis has a broader effect than the simple consequences that seem apparent. For me, there are very positive consequences and others are less fortunate.
But this has led, well the COVID crisis has led to periods of solidarity, which I find breathtaking. It has brought communities closer together. We had a common challenge to face and I find it wonderful to see how people have helped each other and collaborated.
There are examples, numerous examples of… for example, elderly people who were alone. We could see people in their neighborhoods, they would go do their shopping for them to make sure that they wouldn't have to go out. You know people who couldn't come out of their apartments, who were vulnerable and other people came to do cooking for them. And that was extraordinary.
The type of crisis that we've gone through shows these positive aspects of humanity, you know? The solidarity and collaboration. But a crisis like this also shows inequalities, highlights inequalities in our society, the dysfunctions of certain systems and especially hearts of people who are most vulnerable.
So what we've seen is that some couples were more impacted for all kinds of reasons – historical factors, social factors, economic factors – and it kind of exposed us to this. I think we've become aware that certain groups that have been touched more directly and we have to come and help these communities and couples, these groups and to make sure that we solve these inequalities to avoid that this type of situation will have such a difficult effect on these groups. Yes avoid making inequalities worse.
Fabienne: I don't want to re-translate what Simon just said because I know we have simultaneous translation, but he was talking a lot about the solidarity that we discovered through this, despite this crisis and through this crisis, and however there are a lot of inequalities that are showing, you know.
And I'd like to ask you, can you speak to the connection between crisis and the drive to take action and activism because is it like an opportunity for us today to change things, to make change?
Dr. Cheryl Thompson: Yeah, I mean not to be not to be Debbie downer here because it started on such a positive with Elder Commanda but I just think there's a difference between response and reaction.
And typically in a crisis, we're actually just reacting right? It's a lot of reacting. Oh this happened, we got to do this and suddenly “oh anti-Black racism, let's get an EDI committee” and “oh look all the anti-Indigenous, let's heal this.”
So it's a lot of reactive responding right? If you really want change, change through crisis happens when you reflect, you ask questions of yourself, you see the crisis as being actually the tipping point of a long-standing issues, not just something that's just come out of nowhere, and then you recognize that to actually change, we're probably looking at 5-10 years from the crisis itself. Not, oh my gosh, this happened, what a summer, by January you've got all the solutions and suddenly here we are.
So for me, I always see these moments of crises as really just being like… I like to use analogies a lot when I talk and I look at it like when you have that strobe light or that light, you know, that really bright light that people put in their houses but they only come on when someone's approached the house and then when they approach the house it's so bright that it's like you can suddenly see everything.
To me, that's what a crisis is. The light has always been there, right? It's just that suddenly it comes on and you're seeing all the things that it's illuminating and then next thing you know, after a few moments, the light is off again and you're like okay, it's dark again. That's what a crisis is.
So the question is how can we keep that light on, so that it's not just coming on and off when something has happened. It's not just reacting to the thing that's igniting the light. And I think the way that you do that is to be constantly in communication and to always not see… To me, one of the things that I’ve noticed through COVID-19 is, you know, suddenly and it's real.
We're having really great conversations about race, about inequality, like Simon was saying, right? Inequalities, injustices, especially you know things that we often don't talk about in terms of our elders and how our elders and our communities are living.
We're having these conversations. People are talking about nursing homes. When have you heard the news spend so much time talking about nursing homes? So we're having amazing conversations; however, in order to move out of that crisis mode and reflecting, it means, I think to the point of this forum, is thinking about history and thinking about these crises happen because of long-standing patterns that haven't been dealt with, right? So they're always rooted in history even though they seem like they're happening in the present moment.
Fabienne: We're gonna get back to that because I want to know exactly how we're gonna talk about solutions and then exactly what we should do to drive great lasting actions later on as well.
I’d like to get back to Laura. Laura, your video reminds us to think about whose perspective we are talking about and to remember that we all are, you know, different human beings with different lived experiences. How do we ensure that the historical record is capturing the diversity of these perspectives, like that is so iverse and, especially for future scholars and students who study this moment? Like who and I mean, I guess what do we do now so that they have diverse voices through which to study?
Laura: Thanks for the question. I think there are many different things that can be done and I think it involves people in all walks of life.
In the spring during the first weeks of the pandemic here at the university we worked online, we tried to manage online, many teachers thought that instead of having exams and so on, they asked students to write a diary – a daily diary – to create a historic document telling about their story and maybe they would think about it and reflect later in the future. So that' I would say is a very practical example of what we can do.
And it's so important, this question of what is going to be preserved and documented for the future. You know we spent a lot of time talking about social media, but not everything is on social media, not everyone is on social media, so where are those stories of people living quietly and maybe not broadcasting their experiences?
And so it really is a question of people from all walks of life, thinking about how they might document their experiences, and that takes a certain amount of, I would say privilege, economic freedom to contemplate, you know keeping a historical record.
And this is something that historians have and archives have wrestled with historically, is, you know, as people are living through intense moments and intense experiences, they're not necessarily reflecting, writing down how it feels. I certainly know this from my work with refugee histories.
People are making very immediate decisions about where they might be fleeing to how they might keep their families safe and because, you know, refugees we think of this as a community of folks that are, they're in motion, it's very difficult to capture these histories, and it's very, I would say, unethical to say to a refugee in a camp, “we realize you're living through all kinds of difficult circumstances at the moment, but could you just jot down you know what you're feeling.”
And so there's been all kinds of innovations in the pandemic using cell phone technologies to try and capture what vulnerable populations are experiencing, but it's very, very difficult and I think it raises the question of what we as researchers might be asking of vulnerable communities, knowing that we're interested in having an archival record and a historical record but if it's not created organically then how can we do it in a way that's respectful and not an imposition?
And I have lots to say on this, but I will just say that the other thing that concerns me is that there are, there have been all these initiatives to document the pandemic. You know the Smithsonian has put out a call.
And for me, the question is about longevity. So there are a lot of community initiatives, but if there aren't the resources to support that memory-making and that preservation, than a lot of the really good work that is happening right now to document people's experiences is actually going to be lost.
So we don't… I think we need to think beyond just the immediate sort of collecting and preserving to think about how are we going to support communities and individuals for the long term, so that we do have a record available.
Fabienne: But Laura, you also said that researchers should be thinking of asking the questions differently as well now. Can you give us an example of what… give us a concrete example of what were the kind of questions before or the type of how we used to ask them for and what should we be asking now? What kind of truth we should be looking for now?
Laura: Thank you so much for that question as well. I have been thinking a lot about what it means to research with different communities and this is partly tied to the research that I’m doing on the history of sanctuary, which involves looking at both church practices of protection and shelter but also other instances of civil society activism.
And you know, I am so interested in this question and I think it's important for so many reasons, but the moment the pandemic hit I immediately stepped back from that research.
I mean, I was in, I was working with community groups who were helping women fleeing domestic violence situations, it was not the time for me to be asking what happened in the 1930s right?
And so as part of that process, I found myself thinking more and more about how do I ensure that my work as a historian is reflective of what communities want to research, ow I don't want to give up my research agenda entirely, but I need to… I think this pandemic has made me think all the more about how I can really ensure that what the work that I’m doing doesn't impose on communities of all different sorts, but also ensures that it actually responds to their needs in ways that I don't think I necessarily was previously.
I think academic research can take us in all kinds of interesting directions, but the pandemic is making me think that maybe listening a little more closely, pausing a little bit more might be one way to ensure that the research that we do is relevant and speaks to people's concerns.
You know I think people's concerns about the past, the questions that we're asking, have actually changed quite a bit over the course of the pandemic. I think some of the questions that we were already asking have become that much more amplified and I really think that in my case as an academic researcher, I need to be listening to that shift in conversation.
Fabienne: I think I have similar questions along those lines to Cheryl, but Cheryl, I'll get back to you in a minute. Adele, I know you and Dr. Mary Jane McCallum, you have used Brian Sinclair's story as a case study to exemplify how colonialism and racism are entrenched in our health care system, for example. Now that we're in the mix of this, you know, pandemic and public health crisi,s how are these disparities affecting Indigenous communities?
Adele: Sure, so I think it's fairly clear at this point in the pandemic that that COVID-19, like other pandemics, do not affect societies evenly, that they cut along lines of class and race and privilege, they cut along lines of age, they reveal fault lines, you know as Cheryl already sort of explained, they reveal long existing fault lines.
And I think it's fairly clear at this point in the pandemic in Canada, that the Black communities are disproportionately affected in many places and it is becoming clear to what extent that Indigenous communities are being particularly affected in this second wave as we kind of live through this.
So I live in Treaty 1’s territories in Manitoba and Manitoba didn't really have a first wave; we kind of got bits of COVID in that earlier moment, this summer the virus basically disappeared, but the second wave has sort of hit like a ton of brick, so you can choose your metaphor. And this has been true in more particular respects for First Nations on reserve and also disproportionately to a lesser degree for Indigenous people off reserve as well.
So I think, yet again, we are seeing not the effects of anything preordained or natural about those peoples or communities. We are seeing the effects of patterns of the kind of work people do. We are seeing the effects of patterns of domestic life. We are seeing the effects of patterns of infrastructure including the ability to wash your hands in a context where you may live in a community that has been on a 22-year drinking water advisory. We are seeing all of these effects come home as we inevitably do.
And this is a moment where, I think, those things are rendered in very clear ways. And to go back to some of Laura’s comments about the archive that we're seeing built around us as this occurs, I think this is also a moment where we need to do our best to advocate for the creation of records that will make these histories visible.
And I think for any of us who are historical scholars ,one of the things that you know we often run up against is dealing with archives and records that sort of include the histories that they are sometimes most engaged with.
And I think one of the things we've seen over the course this pandemic is a really clear argument coming from a number of contexts that the Canadian healthcare and provincial systems of administering healthcare needs to create data and records that allow us to be able to more sharply register the unequal paths that many diseases, COVID among them, that cut through society in order so that we can call it to account, you know.
We need those records created, not simply to be created, but so that we can engage with what is not like a neutral experience or a universal experience but one that is sharply differentiated depending on the communities you come from, the places you lived and the kind of health care and resources you can access.
Fabienne: You know the question I have for you too, Adele, is in a nutshell, how did you come to be interested in this kind of work, in the indigenous community, because you're not indigenous yourself, and I'm fascinated by your work and in your research and everything else. Why are you, did you devote your work to these questions?
Adele: Yeah, well so I grew up in a white settler family in British Columbia. And I think I am profoundly committed to sort of the way that the study of the past and historical inquiry can explain the present. And one of those presents that I am interested in and I think history can help us with is to sort of engage in critical discussions of colonialism. And so as a historian and as a non-Indigenous person, I see myself as kind of a critical scholar of colonialism.
And I live in Winnipeg, which is a profoundly Indigenous city, and that has been, you know, one of the greatest joys for me of living in this place and raising my non-Indigenous children here and participating in this community, is the generosity and sort of the strength and the enormous capacity and resilience of a city, which is you know deeply and profoundly Indigenous.
But I’m also interested in explaining what it means to be somebody who has my histories in in this context and what it means to be a settler and what it means as far as how we imagine our relationship to this place and how we develop ways of seeing the past and understanding the past in ways that are more responsible to the enormous violence of colonialism and the way it has created um the conditions of life that many non-indigenous people enjoy.
And so in that sense, I think it's really history that can sort of help answer those questions. So the particular book that you've spoken to is written with Dr. Mary Jane Logan McCallum from the University of Winnipeg and she offers a video as part of this event and I’d urge you all to have a chance to have a look at it.
Fabienne: That is so nice and we say hi to her. That’s a good segue to Simon. You devoted your work to young Canadians, you're young yourself, so how do you see the impact we're caught talking about this, the impact of pandemic on the youth right now, on young people? What are these impacts?
You say that it impacts parts of the population more than others, as said people from different cultural communities and in your case you saw differences among young people. What do you mean, what are the impacts of the crisis on the youth?
Simon: Yes, I would like to go back on a few points presented by Adele concerning the health care system. I think there are positive outcomes. I notice that, yes we do have a social security net in Canada to be able to get better through this crisis than others in the world, compared especially with our neighbours to the south.
In Canada when the COVID tests were available, we didn't need to wonder how will I afford this test, will I be able to afford being taken care of in hospital. It is quite accessible and the answer of our health response, thanks to the access to the health system in Canada, I think we are doing pretty well. And saying “I will get some care health care or a test only if I have money,” we don't have that question in mind in Canada and that's a great privilege we have to recognize here.
Now how does the crisis impact the young people? Each generation is impacted but each is impacted differently. Among the young people there are very specific variables where young people are over represented. The first one I have in mind is everything that deals with employment loss.
Young people, many of them lost their jobs because they were precarious jobs or part-time jobs because they had to study and work part-time. So many young people lost their employment to be able to pay for their tuition fees, so this created a lot of uncertainty.
And also we see it in job opportunities now. Many young people are going to school, working hard, and they had a future in front of them, and now they wonder, will my education be useful in the future, is the industry where I want to work will continue to offer jobs, many companies will shut down.
So this uncertainty for young people are at one point in their life where all opportunities are in front of them, the life options are there to have a family, to leave the family home, to buy a property, professional, academic options, so there's a lot of decisions that are difficult to make and with this uncertainty young people have a lot of difficulty.
We see it in the mental health among young people and this impact is very very harsh. Being isolated, no social contacts in a phase in your life where you need to argue with people, you need to have contacts with others, with friends, so being away from all these contacts, this is very difficult for their psychological health. I think they need to talk about it and we need to talk about it and break this taboo that is still there around mental health.
Fabienne: Yes Simon, and briefly, can I still ask you, why did you decide…. you're a lawyer, you work in a large firm, you're dedicated to this segment of the population, the youth, why?
Simon: I will always do it. I will always work for the young people. When we start being involved in organization, volunteering, we notice that there is something bigger that is way beyond what we can see. It's so precious, enriching to learn from others being involved with people who are not from the same environment as us.
I think this contribution is so important for communities but also precious for everybody who is involved. Something that we can't learn at school, we need to be there in the field and we have two options: either you watch what is going on and let things go or you say “oh no, I will contribute, I will jump in, I want to propose solutions.”
And I feel like I can help the society to go forward faster. I think that when you notice that your commitment has an impact, whatever the impact, there's big, large, small impact, whatever your involvement, whatever the organization, with the environment society goes forward and this is the solution for the future. And I feel that young people are interested in getting involved, that's very encouraging.
Fabienne: That's music to my ear! We see it, it's very promising with young people like you, Simon.
Cheryl, I'd like to ask you about the languages of crisis. We've been hearing so many things on social media, in the media, how does language or the way we speak about issues impact the way these issues are understood and dealt with? And then can you also speak to your own research for instance on anti-Black racism, black activism, even the Black Lives Matter.. the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the impact of all that's going on right now?
Cheryl: Sure and I’d just like to add I still consider myself to be a youth [laughs]…into the next decade. But having said that, language I mean if I understand your question, like the language, the words that we use to describe things, I think no matter what I always say this: it's like no matter what language you speak there are certain…I think in all languages there's certain like unifying…. it's not even really words but expressions right?
And as someone who has existed in places where I did not speak the language very well, I always marveled at myself of still being able to know, based on body language, based on eye movement, based on head gesture, what was going on and I say, “oh I know what they're talking about,” even though I don't know what they're talking about.
So I actually and especially being also someone who's, yes of African descent, but my culture my parents are from a Caribbean island, so in the Caribbean and in Caribbean culture, we… you're always reading in between the lines, there's a lot of like semantics in Caribbean culture that is not what people are saying, it's what they're not saying.
And so for me, through this crisis, I've actually paid attention to what is not being said more than what is being said, and I’ve also paid attention to body language even though I’m not a body language expert, I find it very fascinating. Just do this: watch your leaders at the press conference and just watch their body language.
Their body language tells you a lot about how they're managing through this crisis. Not to point out our own leader here in Ontario, but he doesn't move his arms and I find that very troubling, there's no body movement whatsoever and they're telling you something that is actually really effective and emotional and the body neck down is dead.
And for me, I think to myself, what is going on behind closed doors that we don't know about. And so when it comes to language, I'm telling you sometimes it's not what people… I said this in my video piece… it's not always what people say.
For me the power is often what is not being said. I think you tying into my work, you know, it's interesting because… Laura, I think we've had this conversation over email before we actually met each other… I've never considered myself to be a historian, even to this day.
And people will be like, come on now, all your work is kind of history, but I still don't really absorb that title because, for me, I’m just a storyteller. I consider myself to be in the tradition of the African griot.
So I’m telling stories and I’m using the past to tell those stories, but I’m really telling the story to make sense of today, so that's why I never say I’m a historian because I’m not really trying to make sense of what happened in the 19th century. I'm saying to you, “hey here's what happened in the 19th century, look around you, the 19th century is still here.”
You know all of our institutions, for example, that we've been talking about in this conversation: healthcare, policing, universities were all formed in the 19th century and many of the ways that the structures of those institutions are still in place, the hierarchies, were set in the 19th century.
And I always say to people, “what was in the ether in the 19th century?” because so much of what happened in that time period we are actually still clinging to and we have never really moved away from, so while we always credit the 20th century as being this moment of real catalyst change, the truth is the 19th century was the change, the 20th century just made modifications on things and added things and made things faster and more accessible, but things were laid down 200 years ago.
So for me and my work, what led me to this realization, I think it might have been a course that I took when I was in grad school and it just, I just started to see all the connections. That’s why I do what I do because I think if you don't realize that we're clinging to old structures, in this moment during COVID, when these structures are in crisis you don't realize… for me, I see this crisis as the greatest gift that we've been given because now we can finally let go of these 200 year old structures and imagine structures that actually work for us in the 21st century.
Fabienne: My question to you, actually the question I have for you is: you're a Black woman, you're a Black scholar, you are a professor, you are in a certain privileged environment if you can that, how has that been for you, this resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in a professional setting? You told me before that there's something good about all that discussion going on, can you elaborate on that?
Cheryl: Yeah because I’m actually loving it because now when I walk into the room, who's gonna say that they don't see colour, right? All those “I don't see colour, oh we're all the same.”
No we're not. In fact, it’s like me on this call and someone saying to you, I didn't realize she was wearing orange the whole time and you're like, how could you not have seen the orange? You'd be like, what's wrong with you? It's the same thing when it comes to race.
It's like the fact is you should see my race and instead ask me how are you doing as a Black woman. That is how you approach it. Not oh we’re all the same and everything is fine, right?
So for me because of the conversations that have come to light during COVID, I kind of feel like now we can get to having more complicated conversations about difference. Not diversity – like diversity is marketing, okay. That's branding. – I’m talking about understanding how people…I think Laura alluded to this fact and Adele.
Everyone has kind of alluded to this fact that everyone is inhabiting a different reality, right? And when you can begin to see people's differences then you can actually begin to see the sameness. It's when you act like the difference doesn't exist.
FYI when people say difference doesn't exist what they mean is typically if they're white and male and cisgendered and heterosexual that the world looks exactly like that for everyone else, and as we know, the world doesn't look like that for everyone else. And the truth is it's never look like that for everyone else.
Even if you go back in history, it's never looked that way. So for me as a Black woman in academia as you pointed out, yes, that can be a very lonely place to be because I often don't see myself. You know I don't have a huge peer group that I could say get together. But then at the same time I always like… I like a lot of analogies.
Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. But this one, I think works… It's like being a tree in the forest. Like think about all the trees in the forest. They're not really close to one another right? They're actually very distant and they can't, they can't like interact with one another really and they're all at different heights right? But they're all the same trees in the forest. So I see myself as a tree in the forest.
It's like, I'm actually, it's okay that I don't have a quote-unquote someone who's just like me, but I'm not trying to meet another person who's just like me. Instead I’m trying to be the tree.
And in fact, this is a side note, I watched the doc…I don't know why I’m whispering suddenly… but I watched the documentary with Dame Judy Dench and it was fascinating that trees actually do communicate with one another through these like things that they release in the spring that we can't see as humans but they're releasing these things that they're talking to one another, so it's amazing. They have a secret language that we can't see.
Fabienne: Cheryl, I can assure you that you're way more than a tree in the forest; you’re there for a reason and to do something. But my goodness, the time is flying and I know that people have questions and stuff, so here I am being caught up in this great conversation with Adele, with Cheryl, with Simon, and Laura, and I forget all about that, so it's all about you guys.
I’m gonna see if we have some questions here, give me one second, we're live. “Hi Fabienne, question from the audience.” Okay let me, let me see that. “How do you see…” Okay I’m reading for the first time, so… “how do you see this time period as a moment of change for the various groups and communities you study? Do you see an opportunity for positive results?”
I know we touched on that but maybe in a nutshell, do you see an opportunity for positive resulting from the pandemic? Yes Adele. No, no wait a minute. Wait a minute, Laura. Laura first and then Adele. Laura, do you see this as an opportunity?
Laura: Thank you for the question and I want to say one quick thing. Just to go back to what Simon said about the young people. We were talking about the young people in their 20s, how it was a “problem” this situation because it was the same one who would go in restaurants, grocery stores, so when the Cheryl says that what we say, we don't say, and I can't imagine how they were working to help us in the pandemics, those young people and I can't wait to see what the historians will say about that. Okay a moment of opportunity. You know it's interesting Quebec just suspended….
Fabienne: ….For a positive result. Do you see an opportunity for positive result from this pandemic?
Laura: I do and I’m going to be super quick. I'm going to say that it's disappointing that Quebec has suspended the private sponsorship of refugees. That sends a very bad message about the possibility of humanitarian outreach in this moment.
At the same time what a lot of us have been doing over the course of the pandemic is imagining how other people are feeling, trying to imagine how we can help, that empathy and that empathy and that possibility of imagining what people who we don't know what they're going through has been so central to how the history of humanitarianism has evolved historically.
Where we've gone from helping neighbours to helping strangers, that's a very clichéd way of putting it, but the fact that we've spent so much time thinking about people that we don't know in this current moment, as well as people that we know that presents a real opportunity to foster even more empathy, even more support and humanitarianism for people we may not know and it will be interesting to see how the world reconnects after all of this to see what everyone has been living through.
And I suspect that there will be a real affinity to citizens and non-citizens, refugees and migrants because this is something that has cut across many different categories of experiences even as we've lived differently we can all talk about what we were doing in 2020.
Fabienne: Adele. Thank you. Thank you, Laura. Adele?
Adele: Yeah, so thank you for the question. You know one of the things that historians I think come back to and I’m gonna you know push for that here is this idea that change and progress isn't linear, that we sometimes have this expectation that history is just this kind of march towards things getting better and better.
I think a serious examination of histories of Indigenous people and colonialism in Canada is an obvious example that makes clear how untrue that is. Much of the time periods that are generally characterized in Canadian history as good times of the expansion of rights and growing prosperity are in fact moments of Indigenous immiseration and the creation of structures like a segregated health care system, like Indian Residential Schooling, which diminished Indigenous Peoples lives both as individuals and collectivities.
But all of that said, certainly there are things that appear to be shifting. It looks like we might get something towards a national system of childcare which has been something that every Canadian prime minister with one notable exception since the 1960s as long as I’ve been alive has said is a good idea but has not delivered.
There's a chance that that seems to be back on the table. Certainly we have seen conversations around universal basic income shift during this pandemic. We have seen discussions I think particularly in this second wave about the need for a stronger federal system of funding health care and that's a point that actually people came to at the end of the pandemic from 1918 and 1919 as well.
So in some senses you know I don't think we can just haul out sort of an easy kind of idea of all the great things that are going to unroll. We will see some things in clear light, but certainly there are conversations that we have been loathed to have that moments of difficulty in crisis are prompting us to have.
Fabienne: Thank you Adele. Simon, there's a question for you. Simon, can you speak to the impact on younger children? Do you happen to know the impact on younger children of this pandemic?
Simon: Absolutely and I think that whatever where we are it's very different. I can tell you I have a younger brother who is 10 years younger. This brother is right in the middle of his teen years and I can see this has a huge impact compared to me.
I'm a young adult, so when you're a teenager if there's a period where you know relationships with others are particularly important and are crucial in development.
I think that's a period in somebody's life, so youngsters like that who can't go really to school and who end up isolated, who sometimes have learning difficulties and end up with a teaching method which is completely virtual, sometimes they come from more difficult socioeconomic background, they don't have access to the technology which is necessary to take virtual courses.
This really was, it was difficult for teenagers and I think that also younger people, maybe even those who don't understand fully the crisis without understanding why it's happening and without understanding what it is, we'll have understood that there's something serious that has gone that has disrupted their habits, their families.
Just in the energy that people have, the worries that people have. So these two things I think will have an impact which will leave a mark and we will have to make sure as a society will be our challenge. But the impact of this crisis will minimize the negative consequences on the future generations.
This crisis was not that way in the one we've been through. We must not drag these wounds with us too long. The next generations will, just from the point of view of finances because there's an important financial impact, the choice of future generations must not be limited considerably because of a crisis that you will not even have the scene.
So this too is a group challenge that we have so it's very varied depending on which age group we're in, but certainly it has disrupted the young and certainly we will have to find solutions and try to attenuate or mitigate the consequences and the negative consequences of this crisis.
Fabienne: I have so many questions for you all. Time is of the essence. We're almost done, but I’m still trying to, I’m gonna try to fit a couple of questions here and there, and then hopefully have time to go through them all.
A unifying thread in all your work, all four of you, is that you work with and study marginalized communities, from Black, Indigenous, people of colour communities or refugees or migrants, young people or more.
My question is: how do we equalize the field for these groups as we move forward now? How do we make sure that we aren't leaving anybody behind and what should we be doing in a nutshell? Cheryl.
Cheryl: Yes. I mean the first thing is that you have to talk to one another, right? Like there has to be communication amongst different groups. I was just saying this the other day, I think you know, at least in Canada, there's often not a lot of opportunities for example Black communities and Indigenous communities to actually talk to each other.
Like those meetings don't really happen. And the next thing after talking is, you know, it's interesting because someone even said this back in maybe it was in the summer, like you know we're doing a lot of talking during COVID, right. Because that's all we can really do.
We can't really you know go and do the kind of organizing that you might have been doing before COVID. So there's a lot of conversations. And I think if I understand your question and am thinking how can we move the talk into actual action, like how do you materialize it?
And I always think it's no different than thinking about change in your own life. So first thing you want to change something in your own life, someone will tell you we'll write it down.
Write those three things down that you want to change in your life or write down three positive things and three negative things, and then after you've written them down, think about one thing on that list that is actually tangible, one thing that's actionable, one thing that you can actually achieve and then do that. Honestly, just do it. It's what I have to say to you.
It's like one of the things that stops us from actually moving forward as a society is people say a lot of things and then they make up all the reasons not to do it. They say, “oh I can't do that.” “Oh, it's too challenging.” Then they say, “oh, I'm not the one to lead.”
Maybe if you have the idea, then you're the one to do it. And if you don't feel like you can do it alone then form a coalition, ask a colleague, ask a friend, see if they want to come and join you and the next thing you know, you have a whole group you're organizing and you didn't even know that you would, you were an organizer right.
So often what prevents us from taking words into action is because we start thinking about what the type of person that's “active” looks like and they don't look like you, so then you stop yourself. I think coming out of COVID-19, people have to realize if, like I said, if you have the idea, then you're the one to do it.
And if you don't feel like you can do it alone, start talking to friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, any young people and see if they want to do it for you. And if you're not the, if you're not the activist, but maybe you're the writer but you're not the activist, well then you write.
You write the material and you hire the activist or you get the activist to work with you. So you figure out what your role is instead of trying to do everything on your own and I think that's how you speak the words into action.
Fabienne: Yeah we can all be part of a solution at different stages and different roles. Laura, how do we equalize the field for the marginalized and the refugees how do we, how do we do that?
Laura: Oh I wish I had a good answer. I really do. I, you know, I don't know if it got captured in the video that I put together for this, but I struggle a lot with the term marginalized, in part because it suggests that somehow people's experiences are marginalized.
We talk about marginalized communities and so I’ve been trying to get away from the language of marginalized because I think we need to understand that people's experiences are different but everyone has rich, full, complex lives. And we really need to understand that people are living their lives on different terms as well right.
And so, you know, to go back to Cheryl's point about conversation. Years ago now I sat in on a conversation between Indigenous Elders and refugee youth and it was extraordinary to me because the conversation was different than other conversations I had seen, where no one was saying our experiences were the same right, talking about residential schools and loss of language and territory, but there was an understanding, an implicit understanding that then enabled the conversation to move in different directions.
It wasn't just explaining experiences, that was sort of recognized. And I guess what I think about how we might move forward, I would like us to get to a point where we don't have to keep explaining the same thing, where there can be a level of understanding that then lets us imagine possibilities.
And I think we actually have you know maybe we have moved in that direction, not only over the course of the pandemic, but over the course of the past few years, but I really think that you know explaining ourselves to each other is not enough.
That we need to be able to trust and that's, you know, I think one of the things… I'm rambling, but I’m going to try and keep this concise…. one of the things that I have found so striking about the pandemic, and in fact 2020, one of my fabulous grad students keeps saying, you know, “what part of 2020 are you going to write about?”
It's that we've had to trust more. I’m always writing critical things about the government, but I’ve actually had to sit back and just trust that what the government tells me to do is the right thing and that is hard.
And at the same time, you know, we're seeing people not trusting information, not trusting science, and there's, you know, that capacity to trust I think is really, really important and probably part of the solution. So I’ll stop rambling there but, it's a really, it's fascinating to me this question that you've raised.
Fabienne: It's not rambling at all Laura. I mean it's very insightful, thank you. I want everybody to weigh in on that very important question. Adele, how do we equalize the feel for these groups? How do you see we should be doing it now and make change?
Adele: Well, I guess just to build on the previous comments, I think one thing we can do is think about the ways that experiences of inequality are not preordained and they're not natural; they're produced by systems and those are systems that can change and have changed.
And one of, I think, the radical things about history is it provides us with examples of the fact that society has shifted at times in the past. It has shifted in ways that we might register as positive, we might register as negative, but what it does is it gives us that kernel of knowledge that things can change in the future, these things are not set in stone, and that we have the possibility to demand something different.
I think how we shift this within a context of history though, we also I think have to think hard and have to think proactively about questions of equity and representation within the profession and within scholarship more generally in Canada, and that's a conversation that has really sharpened, you know, in the last five years or so and I think that is something that we should all pay attention to.
And I think we need to think about ways that in both an everyday way we can change who is in the room and we can also think about what a scholar named Sara Ahmed talks about, sort of the politics of citation. We can think about who we're reading and who we're talking about and whose perspectives are lifted up and whose are kind of left to sit in a corner and we can shift those patterns even within our own kind of practice as educators and as researchers.
Fabienne: Simone, how do we change things? How can we change things to leave nobody behind? How can we equalize, so to speak, the playing field?
Simon: I’m in agreement, in such agreement with what all of the previous panelists have said, but it's by dealing with all the issues we've identified today, I think it's important to deal with them in a transversal way, to stop looking at them in silos, you know.
Part of the work is important to really showcase all the realities and all the specificities that some communities will be living, but as soon as the observation is made, in each decision that will be taken, not only by our governments but by ourselves individually, as organizations, as persons who are advocates and as workers and citizens.
My decisions, my gestures, our policies – what do they have as an impact on communities which are more fragile? I think that if we go through this exercise in all of the decisions, the gestures that we have, I think this will have a positive impact and this will bring us closer to a society that will be better and fairer.
Fabienne: The question I feel like asking to you, now that we've gone through this pandemic, still going, we don't know when it's gonna be over, so basically your workplace, your way of working has been affected. So how are you trying to affect change with your work anyway?
How do you see your work evolving and changing as you move forward to continue your role as an advocate, a champion, and a leader? Simon?
Simon: It's an excellent question. I think that what we have to take back from this pandemic is adaptation. It shows our way we can adapt; we'll no longer be able to do things as we did them before and this is our capacity to adapt to question ourselves and to identify opportunities brought for by this pandemic, which will allow us to climb out of this crisis.
I think that amongst others everything that is going on virtually, there are negative aspects but as far as accessibility I think this could bring us closer, it can reach more people and we have to adapt our work to this new reality. Maybe it allows us to come into contact with certain groups amongst other of the young, who are particularly present with IT.
So maybe people with whom we had few possibilities of communicable, well now by using these new platforms we'll be able to reach them. So I think it's to find the correct dose, you know, to rethink our practices to kind of leave our comfort zone, which was doing the things the way we used to do them. Well how can I adapt myself to the situation and move forward to have a greater impact? I think this is our challenge.
Fabienne: Yes, adopting change and technology to do something positive. What about you? How are you trying to fit change with your work now? I mean how are… do you see your work evolving through this whole thing to remain effective and will continue to affect change?
Cheryl: I didn’t hear it. Me? My work is exactly as it's always been.
Fabienne: It has not changed your way of working? Or because you were working in a virtual world before is that why?
Cheryl: No, it's not that I…what I mean is the mechanics of work. Of course like I’m not going to campus, but I have always been asking critical questions from out the gate when I was a graduate student. I have never stared away from talking about race in Canada.
I have always done that that and I will always do that. I have never steered away from asking difficult questions that might be uncomfortable to some people. I will have…I have done that and I will keep doing that. So for me, nothing has really changed through the pandemic. The only thing that has changed is that suddenly there is a lot of interest in hearing from me.
Fabienne: You feel like you exist now?
Cheryl: Yeah, so I don't really have to search for publications or speaking opportunities, they seem to just be coming my way and I’m riding the wave because I understand that just like waves, there's a high tide and there's a low tide, so I’m not….
Fabienne: Don’t put that in the universe, Cheryl, don't put that back the universe. Let’s keep going with the…
Cheryl: It’s really important to let me finish because that is the circle of life. You cannot have the high tide all the time. You need a low tide, that's how it works. You can't just… like you can't always be happy, you actually need to be sad, that's how you can know what happiness is.
What I’m saying to you is that through this pandemic, I want everyone in my own life, I have become to realize you cannot have the good without the bad; these are the dualities of life. We always are running for the good feelings and the good times, but we don't realize that those good times only become good because we've gone through the struggle and a bad time.
So for me, because my life as a Black woman in Canada and in academia has been a lot of like this [gestures a rollercoaster], right? More than it's been like this [gestures linear growth]. I have always had to maneuver and adapt to things and to be flexible, so the pandemic has only made that, I feel, a collective experience now.
Now I feel like everyone is kind of going through that, so there is comfort in that, but for me as an individual, I mean to me, it's Tuesday.
Fabienne: So you feel more heard Cheryl now? You've been talking, you've been asking the questions, do you feel more heard or listened to now?
Cheryl: No, it's not that I feel more heard or listened to because I think people were already hearing and listening to me. If I could say that I feel like I was already…I had a voice that people were paying attention to.
What I’m saying and is... like removing myself from it… the stories that I’m telling are more stories that are being told in other platforms. So if you're looking at your newspaper, social media, there's a lot of content that is resonating with people who might look like me, whereas maybe a year ago, they didn’t find it, that's what I mean.
Fabienne: Yeah, yeah. Okay Adele, how do you see things? How do you see your work? Will your work be affected change, evolve? How do you keep making change and keep raising these great questions and with your research?
Adele: Well I think going back to Simon’s comments about youth but from a slightly different direction. I think as a parent, this pandemic has had a very particular history. My kids are out of the childcare sort of age, they're a little bit older.
But certainly what this pandemic has done for working parents, and especially working mothers, I think is something that I think we need to remember at this moment, perhaps where we're shifting this particular ground and what it's done to kids and the institutions they are often most dependent on and most familiar with.
And it's often hard to capture the history of children and the history of looking after children, so I do hope that's one thing that we can keep in mind and we can think about how it has changed the everyday for all of us. But I think about the pandemic probably about 60 percent of the time. I try not to, but I organize my days around the 12:30 press conference, where we hear the new numbers.
I have a lot of conversations with my family who are all working at home too about this and it reminds me of also then when I’m assessing historical moments, when I’m reading historical moments where people are living through things like this, when they're often talking about in their records all sorts of other things, but I’m remembering about how pressing these particular moments are, but also how life goes on.
And that combination of shifting moments, demanding moments, but also the insurgency of the everyday and how it affects us is something that I will think of as I go forward.
Fabienne: Laura, how are you trying to make change with these tough times and how do you see your work changing, evolving, so you can continue to be relevant?
Laura: Oh I don't know if I could continue to be relevant.
Fabienne: Not you, but your work, like what you do.
Laura: Yeah, I think I’ll answer by just circling about a couple of things that Adele said. You know, Adele, you were talking earlier about inequalities not being preordained and I have found myself reflecting a great deal on all of our vulnerabilities and precarities in this world.
And there has been I think, you know in the work that I do in looking at the history of refugee movements and more specifically how refugees have been received in different parts of the world, there has been, I would say, almost an arrogance in the United States and Canada that our countries would never create refugees, we only ever receive and welcome.
And I think that, you know, living through the pandemic has reminded me of, you know, many of the fragile worlds in which we live or we might feel secure, but that that can that can change in a flash. And thinking about the various communities who have been there to provide support and comfort.
And, you know, we can look over the course of history and see different instances where different people have sometimes not been there to help and support, but sometimes have, and so I spend a lot of time thinking about that. I, also like Adele, I am thinking about how different generations and I guess to go back to Simon's points as well, how different generations are going to reflect on this pandemic.
My…the elders in my family, the like you know my grandmother who's fierce and you know my aunts who are older and say well we're not going to stop our lives because there's a pandemic, and so these older generations who have lived through so much and have so much resilience that are not going to be contained or constrained by their age and how we perceive older, you know we might perceive older people in our society.
I think that's really important. There are amazing stories of Indochinese refugees for instance, who are elderly now but lived through incredible turmoil in 1970s and remade their lives in all kinds of ways, so I think that each generation can inspire us.
And Adele's last comment made me think about Matt Miwa who's a wonderful playwright and who has done work with Japanese-Canadians who were children at the time that they were interned during the Second World War, and what he talks about is, they have happy memories because they had a sense of community, they had fellow… you know, they might not have seen fellow Japanese-Canadians in the small communities they were before, but in the camps, they encountered each other and that, to me, was a really surprising story.
It doesn't take away from the violence of the internment and the injustice there, but it is a reminder of, you know, not only how different people are experiencing things, but also different generations. And, you know, I just hope that my kids are going to have some happy memories in this year and not just memories of me saying, I must now go to a zoom call and entertain yourselves. Yeah, so, yeah, I’ll end there.
Fabienne: Laura, I’d like to give you the first last word of the night. Everybody's gonna… I’d like to hear everyone in this question to close everything.
It's been so it's such an inspiration to hear you all and I hope it's been the same for our audience, but before we close everything, my last questions to each and every one of you is: despite the situation, you know the crisis, increased polarization, lack of physical contact and, you know, bad news over bad news, and then, you know, I mean I’m not gonna go into details, but we still have a sense of community, we still find a sense of togetherness and empathy and hope. Laura, what is your hope for the future?
Laura: All right, I was doing that last comment thinking that was my last, so I feel like I’ve given you all the, uh, my hope.
I don't know I feel like people, some people have had to work so hard, I mean, we've all worked hard in different ways, but there's been a vulnerability for you know lower income, single parent families, and so I can't say that I, that I hope everyone you know has an opportunity to reflect and you know take the quiet times and the pandemic and look towards a more hopeful future, but I hope, my hope is that we will have a more equitable future so that the impacts of something like COVID-19 are not so profoundly different.
So I think that's…I mean, I'm inspired by the resilience but I just hope for a more equitable world, a kind world. It's very cliché, but I think that's the best.
Fabienne: Oh that's beautiful, Laura, that's beautiful. That's a great hope for our community, our society, and the universe. Thank you, thank you so very much. Cheryl, what is your hope for the future in a nutshell?
Cheryl: I was hoping that you wouldn’t ask me next because maybe my hope might not be so hopeful for the future, it might not be as positive as Laura’s. But I mean, to be honest, my hope for the future is that people can show up in this world the way they see themselves.
And I mean that across the board. That's not just about race, that's not just about gender, class, that's sexuality, that's disability, ability, that's age, you know in all ways. Because I think, you know, the world up until this point, people have always thought, you know, they've even said, you have to put on a face and I just hope we get to a point where people have the same inner face as they do when they leave their home and they show it to the world.
Fabienne: Beautiful, thank you, Cheryl. Adele, what is your hope for the future?
Adele: I have many hopes for the future. But I guess I would hope that we can see power shift and we can see it shift in ways that are both big and small and we can see thinking about history as history that we write, history that we teach, in ways that are urgent and speak to the present in ways that are direct and compelling and also urgent. So that's kind of what I hope.
Fabienne: Amazing, thank you so much. Mr. Telles, you have the last word. What is your hope for the future?
Simon: What I deeply hope is that this beautiful collaboration, solidarity we have built, everything that horrified us through the pandemic that pushed us to be committed to improve things, let us not forget about all this.
Even if the pandemic will stop one day, it will, I know, it will happen so what will put us all together. Let's keep this energy and, as Cheryl said, let us think about this. Let's continue this fight. So that's my hope.
I think that going through hardships we are all better stronger and we can improve. And no, the world will not be as it was before, we will learn lessons from COVID and we will act upon that to live in a better society.
Fabienne: Simon, that's beautiful. So on this, I would like to thank our panelists: Simon Telles, Laura Madokoro, Cheryl Thompson, Adele Perry.
On behalf of the Canada’s History Forum, thank you very much for the thought-provoking presentations and conversations and to you all, you know, our audience members for your participation and sticking by your side. Thanks to you we had this beautiful discussion, and giving us new pieces of solutions for the future.
Thank you to Power Corporation of Canada for their generous support of this year's Forum. I would also like to remind you to join us again tomorrow at 12:30 pm Eastern Time for part two of the Canada's History Forum.
Tomorrow we will be continuing this great conversation with the 2020 recipients of the Governor's General History Awards. From teachers, authors and scholars to community volunteers and more, these history champions will share their award-winning work and reflect on teaching and learning during the this time and we really, really, really hope you will be there because we put all that together just for you.
So if you love this, if you enjoyed it, please tweet about it, Facebook about it, talk about it on social media, get the conversation going, keep the conversation going actually, and share the page so more people can register for tomorrow.
So thank you again everybody. I hope you had also a great time hearing my beautiful Creole and French accent throughout the night. And on this note, thank you to all of you, merci beaucoup, good evening and see you tomorrow.
Skip social share links