Trent University is to embark on an interactive journey that will allow the entire nation to discuss Canada as a country, critically. The Canadian Studies Department, along with Ontario-based executives William A. Macdonald and William R.K. Innes, are leading a conversation.  This conversation is set out to engage Canadians about the nation in light of the 150th anniversary of the Canadian confederation. Thomas H.B. Symons, Trent University’s founding president, is in consultation for the project’s vision. Symons has played a huge role in fostering Canadian Studies programs across the country, including our own Canadian Studies Department.

“By initialing this project we are formalizing the very process of being Canadian- which is to have that conversation,” says Dr. Christopher Dummitt, Chair of Canadian Studies at Trent University.

“We want to both teach as well as learn what other people across the country think about what matters, and what works for Canada … About what people think that the country could change into.”

“The project will provide a venue for people to have that conversation, and expects that it will trickle outward and have wider effects.”“Further, the project aims to narrowly recommit the idea that Trent is a great home to sponsor this initiative. Trent is one of the first places in the country to focus on Canadian Studies, and still continues to play a very prominent role.”

What makes Canada work and what could make Canada work? These are the two main questions the dialogue will be based on, according to Dr. Dummit.

“As a unified country, Canada has achieved a certain kind of longevity, and in certain areas it has also been successful in accommodating differences within the country, so they want to figure out what is it that it made it work,” reasoned Dr. Dummit. It is not to say that they don’t have the answers, but the project is to allow outreach to people from all across the country, for diverse voice.

On the other hand they also think that there are many things that could be improved. “We don’t think we have monopoly on knowing what those are, so the anniversary is a great moment to gasp on that question,” he said. One example which is currently on everyone’s’ mind is the conversation with the Indigenous population. Recent UN human rights report shows that Canada is failing Indigenous people.

Although Canada is home to over one million Indigenous people, representing dozens of unique histories, languages, and cultural traditions, the indigenous still continue to suffer significant challenges at various fronts.  The rights of Indigenous people has increasingly become an international issue. Disportionately high levels of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is among many others issues seeking justice.

The Indigenous of Canada still continue to suffer unequal access to health care, political autonomy, or control and use of natural resources. The rate of poverty is very high in the face of poor education, and high rates of unemployment. Following the release of the latest report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the Federal government is to now follow lead of the report’s recommendations, recognizing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation. Further, Canada in it itself is to establish an independent public inquiry to address the root causes of the disproportionate levels of violence facing Indigenous women and girls.

An initiative such as this organized by Trent will open up the opportunity to involve the public in a discourse. Those who have experienced  injustice first hand will be able to help formulate appropriate measures to tackle the plight of Indigenous people.

“As we celebrate there is also a sense of how can we make Canada a better country,” stated Dr. Dummit. As Canada approaches its 150th anniversary of confederation it is a relevant time to talk about the nation. The discussion of Canada as a collective nation has dropped off a bit in the last number of years.

“Increasingly, the universities have stopped supporting their Canadian studies programs, even the government of Canada,” says Dummit.

For example, couple of years ago government cancelled a funding for the study of canada, internationally-a program which was once used to be ‘Understanding Canada’, lamented Dr. Dummitt. And there is a sense that people are backing away from supporting the study of Canada, or have national discussion.

“We feel that it really matters that we talk about it and put a lot of resources into it,” he stressed. “Canada itself is a conversation amongst the different people across this vast space, to talk about what it means to live collectively, and how one deals with the many difference across the country is essential to the Canadian experience,” says Dr. Dummitt.

According to the news release, an interactive website ‘Canadian Difference’ is the launch pad for the conversation. However the project itself will be very interactive and dynamic with voices from many people. The bilingual conversation will take place mostly online through podcasts and discussion forums, moderated by Trent graduate students, stated the news release. But it will move beyond technical and traditional borders.

Formally, the project which will bring the ‘Nation together as one to talk about Canada’ is due to start this fall of 2015.