On November 12, 2010 a group of protesters, largely from the group Anti-Racist Action, prevented Christie Blatchford from speaking at the University of Waterloo.  The university bookstore had invited Blatchford to discuss her book Helpless: Caledonia’s Nightmare of Fear and Anarchy, How the Law Failed All of Us.  The protesters occupied the stage, chaining themselves together with bicycle locks, and chanted “racist, racist, racist”.  The university, which wanted to avoid politically damaging images of “security dragging three people off the stage”, chose to cancel Blatchford’s talk.

This incident raises a number of troubling questions regarding freedom of speech at universities.  These questions were faced by Mount Royal University – the institution at which I teach – in May 2010, but they were dealt with much more satisfactorily than at the University of Waterloo.  In May of this year I organized a second “New Directions in Aboriginal Policy” forum at the university, where Gary McHale and Mark Vandermaas (both featured in Blatchford’s book) were invited to give their perspective on the Caledonia conflict.  When this became known, a number of academics across the country signed a petition “condemning” their presence.  These academics maintained that allowing McHale and Vandermaas to speak would “give these anti-Native agitators an academic stage to parade their false allegations and half-truths” and would “serve to normalize racism, aggression, appropriation, and citizen-led militias as tools to solve localized conflicts over Indigenous lands”.  What was needed, in their view, was “a recognition of Indigenous land rights, nation to nation negotiations and the peaceful settlement of land claims”.

Although Mount Royal was pressured, even by some of its own faculty, to “reconsider this travesty”, the university acted in a manner that was consistent with its mandate to promote public debate and freedom of expression.  Instead of bowing to the demands for censorship, a representative from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Wes Elliott, was provided with funding to come to the event from Ontario and challenge the views of McHale and Vandermaas (I had tried for many months to have an academic from Alberta do this but these efforts were in vain).  Security also was on high alert in case there were attempts to prevent people from presenting their views.

Fortunately, coercion was not necessary. All the discussions took place in a constructive fashion, and I even witnessed Wes Elliott and Gary McHale having a civil conversation in the Faculty Centre after the event.  Strangely, Kate Milley, a “white settler academic” associated with the organization that initiated the petition, actually attended the forum “to see for [herself] what was going on”.  So, after counseling a boycott of the event, Milley then went about publicizing her own, highly selective, interpretation of the proceedings.

Although I must admit that I was relieved that no one had to be forcibly removed from the venue, universities should recognize that this must be the course of action if we are to protect the free exchange of ideas on our campuses.  It is now becoming standard practice to make unsubstantiated accusations about racism, sexism, homophobia, white supremacy, etc. to silence disliked, and possibly true, opinions. Christie Blatchford is the latest target of such smear tactics, and this will almost certainly happen again.  Solidaritists watching the Blatchford affair will be emboldened by the University of Waterloo’s impotence; if these censors are not opposed, we will be effectively asking students to vet who is allowed to speak.  This does not mean that protests should be prohibited; they just should be prevented from stifling the viewpoints of opponents.

It is a cruel irony that the student movement, which used to fight for the right to express controversial opinions, is now shutting them down.  They are doing this because they have become religious, as opposed to scientific, in their outlook.  They believe that they know the truth, and, like a preacher at a pulpit, refuse to listen to the blasphemy of “the Devil”.  They have become “defenders of the faith”, and believe, like kindly inquisitors, that those holding views deemed harmful for society should be punished.

This attitude is shown by the claims made about Blatchford and McHale and Vandermaas.  Dan Kellar, one of the protesters opposing Blatchford, for example, maintains that Blatchford should not be allowed to speak because she is “tak[ing] things out of context” and “ignoring history”.  But how do we know if this is the case if Blatchford is not able to present her views and respond to criticisms?  In the case of McHale and Vandermaas, what are their “false allegations and half truths”, and how can it be shown that their views “serve to normalize racism”?  What evidence supports the view of  indigenous solidarity groups that a “recognition of Indigenous land rights, nation to nation negotiations and the peaceful settlement of land claims” would resolve the conflicts existing in Caledonia and the rest of the country?

There is no doubt that the resolution of aboriginal-non-aboriginal conflicts in Canada will be difficult.  The quagmire that is Caledonia is very difficult to understand, and no one, at this point, has access to all the necessary information.  But the greater the complexity of the issue, the more that vigorous debate is necessary.  Stifling freedom of speech by making wild accusations of racism, and even comparing individuals to Nazi war criminals, only makes it more likely that knowledgeable people will remain silent, and unrealistic and harmful policy decisions will be made.   All people, regardless of their culture and ancestry, must learn to speak openly and honestly in public forums, since this is the only way that we will learn how to live with one another.

A proposal for a round table is being submitted to the Canadian Political Science Association to discuss research ethics and aboriginal peoples at the annual conference at Wilfrid Laurier University on May 16-18, 2011.  The political scientists who have agreed to participate include myself, Rhoda Howard-Hassmann and Tom Flanagan.  Invitations were also extended to promoters of indigenous theories and methodologies in political science, but these attempts have been met with silence (so far).  Efforts to encourage intellectual diversity at the Canadian Political Science Association seem to have foundered once again.

The abstract for the round table is posted below.  It should be noted that participants who would like to advocate different standards for the study of aboriginal peoples can be added to the round table at any time.

FW

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Aboriginal Peoples, Political Science and Research Ethics:  Should Indigenous Politics be Studied Differently?

In the development of research in Canada, there are increasing attempts to ensure that the study of human subjects is conducted ethically. As a result, bodies like the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] recommend that research ethics boards should be put in place to review research applications requesting funding. Of particular significance is research pertaining to the study of groups that are perceived as vulnerable. There is great concern about the impact that research can have on aboriginal people, for example, because of the power imbalances instituted by colonization. It is argued that additional protection should be provided to the native population, and it is assumed that the enhancement of indigenous cultures should be a goal of the studies conducted. But to what extent do these developments in research ethics place onerous constraints on political scientists? Political scientists from a variety of perspectives will give their views as to whether it is appropriate to ask academics to take a position on cultural enhancement in their research. Presenters also will inquire if these guidelines have the potential to compromise academic freedom. Questions will be asked about the relationship between ethics guidelines and the politicization of research, and the possibility that this development could inhibit, rather than enhance, a researcher’s attempts to increase knowledge about the actual character of indigenous politics.

A new paper, “Secularism, Critical Thinking and Mount Royal University: Is 100 Years of Progress Under Threat?”, has been added to the religion page of this blog (it can be accessed with the following link – Secularism Critical Thinking and Mount Royal University).  The paper was submitted to the Mount Royal Centennial Reader, a peer reviewed journal that has been created in honour of Mount Royal’s 100 year anniversary.  The introduction of this paper reads as follows:

When I happily accepted a job as a faculty member at Mount Royal University (née, College) in August 2008, I was pleased that I would be working at a secular institution.  Although Mount Royal, when it was a college, was formed as a private Methodist institution 100 years ago, 1959-1976 was the last period in which a religious figure administered Mount Royal’s affairs.  In 1966, the Mount Royal College Act was passed, which made Mount Royal a public institution, distancing it from its religious origins. 

However, a number of recent occurrences threaten Mount Royal’s maturation to secularity.  It is important to alert faculty members, the broader university community and the general public to these challenges, and explain why it is important to confront them.  Such matters pertain not only to those who study and teach at Mount Royal; they are of importance to all universities today.  Examining Mount Royal University’s secularity (or lack of), in fact, provides a significant moment for reflection in its centennial celebrations, and can encourage other educational institutions to contemplate their own circumstances and historical development.  Before these affronts to secularism can be analyzed, however, it is first necessary to outline what is meant by secularism, and why it is particularly important that educational institutions maintain a neutral stance towards belief in the supernatural.

Call for Presentations

The third annual New Directions in Aboriginal Policy forum will be held at Mount Royal University in the Jenkins Theatre on May 5, 2011 (for the poster see New Directions in Aboriginal Policy 2011 – call for presentations).  The keynote speaker for the event will be Randy Fred, the publisher of FACE – a new magazine about Aboriginal life and culture – and founder of Theytus Books (one of Canada’s first aboriginal-owned and operated publishing companies). 

The forum is designed to open up debate on aboriginal policy in Canada.  Its purpose is not to promote a particular position, but to bring together scholars and activists to present different, and even conflicting, viewpoints.  The assumption is that listening to a diversity of viewpoints on a topic is essential to the development of critical thinking and informed discussion.  The forum, like the intelligence2 debates put on by the BBC, “is dedicated to creating knowledge through contest”.

To this end, the 2011 forum is designed to bring in speakers to present their views on opposing sides of three important questions facing policymakers today:

  1. Will the settlement of land claims address native welfare dependency in Canada?
  2. Is recognizing a third order of government the key to aboriginal self-determination?
  3. Does the teaching of aboriginal spirituality improve educational achievement?

If you are interested in presenting your views on one of these questions, please send a brief outline of your position to:

Frances Widdowson, Assistant Professor, Department of Policy Studies, Mount Royal University, 403-440-6884, fwiddowson@mtroyal.ca

Some funding is available to cover the travel and accommodation costs of participants.

A new paper on “indigenous ways of knowing” has been posted on the Environmental Policy page of this blog (“Indigenous ways of knowing” and the environment).  This paper was presented at the Under Western Skies conference at Mount Royal University on October 14, 2010.  The introduction of the paper reads as follows:

An increasingly common argument, in the environmental policy literature, is that the incorporation of “indigenous ways of knowing” is necessary to understanding environmental impacts, contributing to the capacity of policymakers to address the environmental crisis.  Two claims are made in support of this.  The first is that aboriginal people are “keen observers” of the environment, and this will aid scientific research.  The second is that native groups did not destroy the environment before contact and this is an indication of an aboriginal environmental consciousness that helps to shape their knowledge.  Aboriginal peoples, it is argued, have a “way of knowing” that mandated them to “live lightly on the land”, in contrast to the “western” viewpoint of Europeans that prizes the control over nature and the exploitation of resources to spur industrial progress.

Using three case studies in western Canada – global warming research, the development of endangered species legislation, and aboriginal involvement in Alberta tar sands development – these claims will be investigated.  This will first require a definition of “indigenous ways of knowing” and an understanding of how it differs from knowledge that is non-indigenous.   Questions will then be raised as to how knowledge diversity can facilitate the development of a common understanding that is necessary to facilitate effective policymaking.   Successful policy development, after all, requires that problems be clearly defined, causal factors identified and the severity of issues accurately measured – requirements that cannot be easily reconciled with postmodern assertions about different, but equally valid, “world views”. Finally, the paper will examine whether or not these assertions about “indigenous ways of knowing” are a response to the inadequacies of scientific theories and methods, or are a reflection of the economic and political context in which scientific research operates.

Larry Gaynor (1939-2010)

September 12, 2010

On September 5, 2010, a wake was held in Toronto, Ontario for my good friend, Larry Gaynor, who died on May 15.  At the wake, several of Larry’s friends gave touching and amusing speeches about his life.  Although this post is of a personal nature, many people at the wake expressed interest in acquiring a poster that I created, which had incorporated an obituary written by Michael Enright.  This poster is available by clicking on this link – Larry Gaynor Obituary Poster.

FW

Guest post by Albert Howard

The plan to burn copies of the Koran, on the anniversary of the 9/11 suicide bombings of the World Trade Center, by the pastor of a small Florida church, has resulted in extensive media coverage and pleas to desist by a range of people including President Barack Obama.  There even have been suggestions that burning the Koran would be similar to burning the Bible; this comparison was quickly dropped by the media, however, because of the fact that a violent  response to Bible-burning would be unlikely.

The arguments in favour of changing Pastor Terry Jones’ intentions involved the entreaty to be tolerant – Jones’ action was originally in protest against the building of a mosque two blocks from what used to be the World Trade Center. Apparently 70% of Americans oppose the mosque being built in that area. Obama and the bright lights at CNN all agree that the Muslims have a constitutional right to build the mosque on that site; they own the property, and the US constitution is very big on religious rights. But Pastor Jones and his followers own the books he aimed to burn, and there is no law against burning them. 

While the plea for tolerance is not specific (Is it tolerance for the mosque, or for Islam in general?), the real concern is for the probability of extreme Muslim violence in retaliation. Just as Muslims were prepared to murder innocent people in retaliation for the publishing of the cartoons of Mohammed and Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, they are warning of violence in response to burning some books. It is absurd that it is considered that if this violence were to occur, it would be the responsibility of Jones for burning the books, rather than the Muslims for killing or maiming innocent people. This is what is apparently meant by “religious tolerance”.

While the threats are claimed to come from a minority of “radical Islamic” elements, no rational, peaceful Muslims in the majority, have condemned them. The rationale is that Muslims feel so passionately about the Koran that any idiotic, murderous response should be respected and we should capitulate to threats of violence. This, in contradiction to US policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists – even to the extent of sacrificing hostages.

But, since we are constantly reminded that the murderous activities carried out in the name of Islam are the responsibility of a tiny majority of “radicals”, while the majority are peace loving, respectable folks just like you and me, except for praying a lot and treating women as chattel, why aren’t these supposed lovers of peace saying anything about the threats of violence against Jones? What kind of people consider the burning of a book more important than human life?

Why, in fact, were Muslims more concerned about condemning Jones’ legal and peaceful protest than in fighting against the horrible violence being carried out in the name of Islam?  The most obvious case in point is Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani – the woman who, after having already suffered 99 lashes, was sentenced to be stoned to death in Iran. Where was the wrath of the “moderate Muslims” in response to this cruelty?

Islamic law dictates that the end of Ramadam signals that capital punishment can resume. While the Koran has no specific injunction to stone anyone, Mohammed is on record for committing a number of people (women) to death by stoning. The Koran limits its meting of justice to lashing, amputation, and crucifiction. After all, Allah is wise, forgiving and merciful as a perusal of the Koran will reveal hundreds of times. It is significant that the penalty for murder in Islamic law is 15 years in jail, while the punishment for adultery is stoning – almost always given to the woman, since it is always her fault.

The problem with the reaction to the Koran-burning episode is that reinforces the idea that the words of the book are “sacred”, and thus they must be “protected” from criticism.  A letter in The Globe and Mail by Shahina Siddiqui (president of the Islamic Services Association) on September 9, 2010, for example, notes that her three-year old grandson has been “shielded” from the event because he “knows [the Koran is] sacred and handles it with care and reverence” (p. A12).  It is disturbing to know that this boy is being indoctrinated in such a way, and that this is being encouraged by politicians and journalists.  There was no mention of shielding the boy from the heinous brutality advocated in the book being used for his brainwashing. Although book burning as a form of censorship should be opposed, this is different from a person choosing to “desecrate” a religious text that they own.  Books are burnt/landfilled/recycled everyday for various reasons (lack of space, uninterest); why should we care if the Koran is treated similarly?

A new review of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry by Daniel Salée has appeared in the International Journal of Canadian Studies (“Indigenous Peoples and Settler Angst in Canada” – posted on The Aboriginal Industry Disrobed page of this blog).  While the review is not supportive of the book, it represents an important breakthrough in that it is a serious academic response to our arguments.  Salée has stressed in the past that it is important to debate these matters, and it is good to see that this is finally happening.

There also are a number of other important developments.  First, MediaIndigena is publishing my critical response to Charles C. Mann (author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus) in two parts (“Sewing a shirt of a button: the pseudeoarchaeology of 1491” – http://www.mediaindigena.com, August 30, 2010).  Mann’s work has been embraced by a number of Native Studies scholars (Taiaiake Alfred, Rauna Kuokkanen, Niigowedom Sinclair) because it denies the theory of cultural evolution.  Those who are taken with Mann’s arguments should be aware of the pseudoarchaeological character of this book.

Secondly, Upping the Anti is publishing a 1,000 word response that Albert Howard and I made to Tom Keefer’s review of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry.  We are hoping that this response will lead some rational materialist thinkers to question Keefer’s romanticism and ultraleftism (Keefer’s review is posted on The Aboriginal Industry Disrobed page).

Thirdly, Wicazo Sa Review will publish our analysis of Leanne Simpson’s diatribe (also posted on this blog) in their next issue.  This is a particularly important development because of the acceptance of censorship in Native Studies.  Robert Innes, for example, in a recent presentation at Trent University entitled “The Widdowson Question: To Engage or not Engage?”, noted that many scholars in this field “have expressed their concern about Widdowson and Howard’s perspectives and have argued that Native Studies should not engage in their works and that their works should not be included in Native Studies courses”.  Although Innes is critical of our work, he opposes this censorship, maintaining that “Native Studies students should have the opportunity to read and, in the tradition of the founders of the discipline, form articulate assessments of these works (http://www.trentu.ca/academic/nativestudies/celebratingindigenousknowledges/).

Finally, Randy Fred, the creator of FACE: Aboriginal life and culture, has written a favourable review of the book (http://face-siem.com/?p=134).  Fred is very aware of the existence of the Aboriginal Industry (unlike Salée), and it is encouraging to see that there is increasing recognition of this parasitic and socially destructive entity.   This is what we originally hoped when we published the book; to understand a problem, one first has to understand its cause, and the Aboriginal Industry has an interest in obfuscating this understanding.

On July 22, 2010 the CBC repeated the documentary “The education of Ashif Jaffer” about a man with Down syndrome taking a course at Ryerson University last year (www.cbc.ca/globalperspectives/).  Jaffer was taking the course Writing for Disability Activism and planned to apply to Ryerson’s degree program in Politics and Governance in the fall of 2009.

Jaffer’s attempt to pursue a university degree was not the first.  In 2006 Jaffer was admitted into York University, but had to withdraw in his first year.  This was because York University would not allow Jaffer to write his exams while accompanied by a teaching assistant – the extraordinary accommodation that had enabled Jaffer to graduate from high school as an “Ontario Scholar” (a student who achieves 80% or higher in six Grade 12 courses).  It is asserted that Jaffer needs a teaching assistant during exams to “help get the full answers out so that he can write them down” because Down syndrome has “altered” his brain’s “retrieval functions ” (Daniel Girard, “School Denies Access”, Toronto Star, December 5, 2006, p. D6).

Although it is not clear if Jaffer was accepted in a degree program at Ryerson, the documentary raises questions about the extent to which universities should accommodate the mentally disabled.  It is one thing to allow intellectually challenged people to audit courses and benefit from participating in a university environment; it is another to award degrees that assume that certain skills and learning outcomes have been achieved.

Jaffer’s actual intellectual abilities are difficult to determine because he is always accompanied by his mother, Fran Marinic-Jaffer (or a hired note-taker), and the analysis of his case is influenced by advocates for the disabled who are prone to wishful thinking.  There is no exam in the Writing for Disability Activism course, and Marinic-Jaffer oversees all of her son’s assignments.  Although Marinic-Jaffer insists that her son does his own work, it is hard to take her assertions at face value because of her emotional involvement.  In the documentary, Marinic-Jaffer defiantly states that there was “no doubt” in her mind that, when her son was born, he would go to university.   As a result, she has continuously waged battles against educational institutions, even suing York University for three million dollars, and is adamant that “no” is not an option with respect to her son obtaining a university degree.

While the obsessive advocacy of Marinic-Jaffer could be attributed to parental narcissism, more disturbing is the fawning tone of the documentary, and its assumption that obtaining a university degree is a “right” regardless of one’s abilities.  One is also left with the impression that those trying to uphold academic standards are unreasonable and lack compassion.  Similar responses were received by Leonard Stern, when he commented about Jaffer’s withdrawal from York University in the Ottawa Citizen last year.  According to Stern,

“…parents of children with Down syndrome have suggested that it is wrong to make intelligence a requirement of university.

One mother accused me of ‘IQ’ism.’ One father was furious that I said York University would be devaluing its undergraduate degree by changing the goalposts for Ashif Jaffer. He wrote that I have ‘entirely missed the point of education.’ What matters is that Ashif would ‘command respect for his efforts’ in a way that would bring honour to York University.

Other parents of children with Down syndrome talked about the ‘diversity’ that cognitively impaired students could bring to a university seminar room. It was pointed out that people with Down syndrome are ‘inspirational’ examples for the rest of us. Others argued that ’emotional’ and ‘spiritual’ intelligence — the kinds that can’t be assessed by any exam — are more important than the measurable intellectual achievement which York University is unfairly demanding” (Stern, “Devaluing a University Degree”, Ottawa Citizen, May 9, 2009).

And it is not just parents of Down syndrome children who put forward such arguments.  These sentiments are consistent with the belief that anyone can achieve anything, regardless of the obstacles that stand in their way. They also reflect the postmodern confusion of political equality with intellectual ability.  Recognizing that certain people do not have the intelligence to master the abstract reasoning needed to obtain a university degree has nothing to do with a person’s political rights.  This is a reality, and it is counterproductive to award mock degrees so as to satisfy confused thinking and false hopes.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for qualified students to attend university because of financial restrictions, and the lawsuits, teaching assistants, disability consultants, etc., required in cases like Jaffer’s mean that even fewer resources will be available for those who are actually capable of obtaining a degree.

Comments and new posts

July 21, 2010

As I am now able to deal with spam and responses, the blog is now open for comments.  New posts are also on the way.

FW

Because I will not have regular computer access for two and a half weeks, I have closed comments on posts until I return (to avoid spam buildup).

FW

A number of reviews of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry have recently appeared (posted on The Aboriginal Industry Disrobed page of this blog).  Although the reviews do not really engage intellectually with the arguments and evidence that we present, we have submitted our responses to two of them and there is hope that  real debate will emerge in the future. 

Particularly promising is Niigonwedom Sinclair’s review, “An Ink-Stained Response to ‘Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry'”.  Sinclair’s review appeared on Media Indigena – a collaborative blog headed by Rick Harp, a journalist and former anchorman on the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network.   I have always found Harp to be interested in promoting debate on aboriginal policy, and so I sent him an email expressing my interest in responding to Sinclair’s piece.  Harp agreed, and the response was posted today (see “Co-Author of ‘Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry’ Pens Her Rebuttal” – http://www.mediaindigena.com).

Less certain is the future of our response to the review by Leanne Simpson in the Spring 2010 issue of Wicazo Sa Review.  Although Simpson’s review is very problematic – in both its tone and content – we are glad these views are being expressed in an academic journal.  This is the first step in ending the self-censorship that exists with respect to the study of aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations.  Hopefully the Wicazo Sa Review will recognize that, as a scholarly venue, it has an obligation to allow us to speak to the inaccuracies and vitriol that it has legitimized.

Well, we are all continuing to decompress from the “New Directions in Aboriginal Policy” forum (2010) at Mount Royal University (held a few weeks ago now!).  Contrary to the insinuations that additional security would be needed, everyone acted in a very collegial (although sometimes passionate) manner.  Important lessons were learned about the benefits of public debate.  Censorship and professed “offence” will not help us to understand and address complex and difficult policy problems.  A number of faculty members from Mount Royal University chose to boycott the forum, but many others stated that, while they disagreed with many of the opinions that were expressed, censorship was an unacceptable response in an academic environment.  I even witnessed Gary McHale and Wes Elliott having a long and polite conversation with one another in the Faculty Centre. 

Mount Royal University should be commended for standing up to the intimidation, and allowing such an historic exchange to take place.  Once again, the Provost and Vice-President, Academic, Robin Fisher, the Dean and Associate Dean of Arts (Manuel Mertin and Sabrina Reed), and the Department of Policy Studies (especially the Chair, Bruce Foster) have shown themselves to be leaders in supporting academic freedom and critical inquiry.  The other sponsor of the forum, the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, should also be thanked for providing partial funding for the event.

Over the following days, additional materials will be posted on the “New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums” page on this blog.  I have already posted my opening remarks – “The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation”.  It is hoped that these additional materials will further stimulate debate on aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations.  I am already starting to think about next year’s forum – to be held in the first two weeks of May 2011 (it is still not clear when the best time is for the event).  It is hoped that with the additional contacts that I am making that next year we can begin to have more of an organized exchange on three questions concerning native economic development, aboriginal governance and “indigenous knowledge”/education/research.  It is also hoped that, on each panel, there will be two speakers directly supporting or opposing a question concerning a particular aspect of aboriginal policy, much like the Intelligence² debates on the BBC.

The keynote speaker, Don Sandberg, gave a very interesting overview of his thoughts on “The State of First Nations in Canada Today”.  In this presentation, Mr. Sandberg focussed on a number of the most significant challenges facing aboriginal peoples, especially in the areas of governance, economic development and education.  I was also interested in Sandberg’s comments about some of the problems concerning “traditional medicine”; in his presentation, Sandberg noted that some people in an aboriginal community were afraid that “bad medicine” was being thrown at them, causing them a great deal of  stress and unhappiness. 

The first panel, “Private Property and Native Economic Development”, featured a spirited exchange between Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) and Albert Howard (Independent Researcher) about whether private homeownership could improve economic conditions in aboriginal communities (Flanagan stated that he disagreed with practically everything that Howard said, except for Howard’s comments about rentierism).  Albert Howard’s presentation will be posted on this site soon, and it is an encouraging development that Flanagan’s ideas are now being subjected to critical analysis, rather than being dismissed as “offensive”.  Joseph Quesnel also provided an interesting commentary on how the unviability of reserves could be addressed.

The second panel, “Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law”, had presentations from Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina), Gary McHale (CANACE), Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project), and Wes Elliott (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory).  It was unfortunate that Bourgeault’s work, which is very significant and underutilized in academe, was upstaged by the arguments concerning the Caledonia dispute.  Wes Elliott provided a diagram of his vision for achieving reconciliation in Caldedonia.  McHale and Vandermaas’ presentations contain too much memory to be posted on this site, but they can be accessed on the “Caledonia Victims Project”  website – http://caledoniavictimsproject.wordpress.com/   There is also a video recording of McHale and Vandermaas’ presentation on this site for those who are interested..

The third panel, “Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education”, had presentations by Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher) on Australian education policy, Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) on bilingual education in Nunavut, and an exchange between David Newhouse (Trent University) and myself on “indigenous knowledge”.  I will be posting PowerPoint slides and the written comments for my presentation in the next week or so on the “New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums” page of this website.  It is also hoped that David Newhouse will submit his slides.  In my opinion, the exchange between Dr. Newhouse and myself was the most cordial and intellectual that I have ever seen with respect to this subject.

Although it is a very busy time of year because of the upcoming Congress, I will do my best to post these materials in a timely manner.  I also want to put out a call for presenters for May 2011.  An aboriginal member of the audience made the comment that she felt the panels were “stacked” in favour of the integrationist/assimilationist position.  I informed her that I had tried for months to obtain representation from people who would sit at the same table and challenge the views of Flanagan, Howard, McHale & Vandermaas, and myself, but was told that they did not want to be a part of such an event (fortunately, Wes Elliott called me and stated that he wanted to debate McHale and Vandermaas – an encouraging development).  Funds are limited, but we usually have enough for two or three speakers (depending upon where they live).

Please note:

With respect to Wes Elliott, a mistake has been made.  He is not a negotiator, but is on the negotiating team.  I apologize for the error.

FW 

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The final program for the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy forum at Mount Royal University on May 5, 2010 has just been completed.  It is posted on the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page and is cut and pasted below.  The posted program now contains the abstract for the presentation of Wes Elliott  (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory) – “Allies of the Crown: Honouring the Treaties is the Formula for Peace”.  The abstract states that

“The Great Law of Peace contains the principles which the Creator gave to the Houdensaunee people to live in harmony with one another and the land. This foundation formed the oldest confederacy of nations in the world. It is our Constitution. When European contact came, two wampum belts or treaties, were agreed upon: the Two Row and the Silver Covenant Chain. They became the Law of the Land. Today they are still the Law of the Land. They govern the conduct between our nations. They supercede any laws created for so called justice.

In Caledonia, both treaties have been violated. In Brantford, both treaties have been violated. In negotiations, both have been violated.  We have never been conquered. We are the only native nations in Canada that are allies to the Crown. We have our own language, culture and history, but most of all, we uphold our part of the Treaties. The basic understanding of these treaties, the honouring of them, then abiding by them, is the formula for peace”.

We are very pleased that Mr. Elliott has agreed to make this presentation and to critically engage the position of Mark Vandermaas and Gary McHale.  Once again, the forum does not endorse either position; its only goal is to present diverse points of view.  Although many will not agree with the arguments presented, Mount Royal University is a strong supporter of academic freedom and critical inquiry.  It is by being exposed to challenging points of view, in fact, that enables all people to develop intellectually.

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New Directions in Aboriginal Policy

Free Public Forum at Mount Royal University

Nickle Theatre (Main Building, West Gate)

Calgary, Alberta, May 5, 2010

Sponsored by:

Mount Royal University’s Department of Policy Studies,

Arts Scholarly Events Committee, Office of Provost and Vice-President, Academic,

and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

8:30-9:00              Coffee

9:00-9:20              Opening Remarks

Sabrina Reed (Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts, Mount Royal University) – Welcome

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation

9:20-10:00            Keynote Address

Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy) – The State of First Nations in Canada Today

10:00-10:15         Coffee

10:15-12:00         Panel I – Private Property and Native Economic Development (Chair: Kari Roberts)

Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) – Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights

Albert Howard (Independent Researcher) – Field of Dreams: “Building” Aboriginal Economies with Property Ownership

Glenn North Peigan (University of Lethbridge) – The Treaties, Economic Development Funding and Aboriginal Dependency

Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre For Public Policy) – The Politics of Cutting Your Losses: Non-viable Reserves and Aboriginal Economic Development 

12:00-1:00            Lunch Break

1:00-2:45              Panel II – Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law (Chair: Miriam Carey)

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina) – The Aboriginal National Question: Colonialism, Self-Determination and the New Right

Wes Elliott (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory) – Allies of the Crown: Honouring the Treaties is the Formula for Peace

Gary McHale (CANACE) – The Face of Aboriginal Sovereignty Versus the Rule of Law in Caledonia

Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project) – Listening to Victims: A Fresh Approach to Reconciliation and Healing

2:45-3:00              Coffee

3:00-5:00              Panel III – Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education (Chair: Jennifer Pettit)

Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) – Bilingual Education in Nunavut: Trojan Horse or Paper Tiger?

Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia) – Aboriginal Educational Successes in Australia: Mass Tertiary Education and the Development of an Indigenous Academic Class

David Newhouse (Trent University) – Canada Meets the Good Mind

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Good Mind and Critical Thinking: Exploring the Implications of “Indigenous Knowledge” Meeting the Academy

5:00-8:00              Reception (Faculty Centre)

Today, a professor that I know and respect sent me a message telling me that he had signed the Open Letter (now withdrawn on the basis of its libelous statements) because he had “reservations about particular panelists from the militia in Caledonia” due to their methods, which “the open letter captures”.  He then went on to ask: “Are there not others involved in the conflict who bring a more balanced view to the conflict in Ontario? Christie Blachford [sic] for example has written about Caledonia from a critical perspective without advocating vigilantism”.

After Ms. Blatchford was informed about the professor’s query, she provided an email responding stating that she could not attend because she is currently working on a book about Caledonia, and did not have the time to participate.  She also made some comments in response to the professor’s reference to “vigilantism”, and requested that I forward them to him.  After receiving this reply from Blatchford, the professor in question is now reconsidering his original position on the matter, and so I thought that others who signed the petition might be interested in what she has written.  Reprinting Blatchford’s comments is not meant to endorse the ideas of Vandermaas and McHale; Blatchford’s views are only one opinion, and her impressions of McHale and Vandermaas’ could be mistaken or be based on an unrepresentative sample of the evidence available.  It is only to suggest that until the voice of McHale and Vandermaas are heard we will not be able to develop an informed opinion on the Caledonia conflict, and the appearance of these speakers should not be “protested” on the basis of questionable allegations.

In Blatchford’s words:

“…[the professor] writes that I have written critically about Caledona “without advocating vigilantism” — the clear implication that Mr. McHale and Mr. Vandermaas have done so. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have attended three recent rallies in Caledonia, two of them organized by Mr. McHale, both of which were cancelled when self-styled anti-racists from Toronto showed up to out-shout the group. Mr. McHale sensibly cancelled the rallies both time. He always urges his supporters to be polite, respectful, civil, and peaceful. (In fact, he also asks people not to swear, which would exclude me, I confess.) In the course of researching my book, I have also reviewed video footage of earlier rallies in Caledonia and at Queen’s Park that were organized by Gary and Merlyn Kinrade; the footage of the rally at the Legislature is actually touching, because they were all dressed up, in suit and tie, and their remarks were as respectful as their attire.

On the one occasion that I know of where a Six Nations member, Clyde Powless, showed up and asked to speak at a Mr. McHale rally, he was greeted politely by Mr. McHale and allowed his turn at the microphone to say his piece. It was but a couple of weeks later at another rally that Mr. Powless assaulted Mr. McHale (he pleaded guilty to this offence in 2008). This was typical and telling — on the few occasions there has been violence at a McHale rally, it was not committed by him or his supporters, but rather by those who wish to deny him the right to speak.

While I grant you that the Caledoniawakeupcall website looks a little cartoonish, it is a well-documented (with original court files, newspaper stories, etc) site, and the cartoonish aspect does not accurately reflect the serious nature of the organizers.

I’ve come to know Mr. McHale quite well, Mr. Kinrade and Mr. Vandermaas a little, and have found them always to be fierce advocates only of freedom of speech and non-violent civil disobedience. I think it is just a little ironic that at a time when George Galloway’s supporters (including university professors) are arguing he should be allowed to enter Canada and speak — and I agree with them and have said so publicly — another professor is advocating censoring Gary McHale et al.” (Personal communication from Christie Blatchford, April 28, 2010).

Please note:

With respect to Wes Elliott, a mistake has been made.  He is not a negotiator, but is on the negotiating team.  I apologize for the error.

FW 

***

It has just been finalized that a new participant has been added to the “Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law” Panel.  Wes Elliott, from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, contacted me and said that he wanted to balance our panel and criticize the views of Mark Vandermaas and Gary McHale.  Mr. Elliott agreed that debating the issue was important so that a greater understanding of current circumstances could be developed.  He informed me that, as a negotiator for Six Nations, he has the background to be able to propose solutions to the current crisis.

This is a great development in the forum.  As I mentioned earlier, proponents of indigenous sovereignty should make their case as to why this road offers a better future for aboriginal people and aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations than the argument being made by those opposed to what they refer to as “race-based” policing – that enforcing the rule of law is an esssential element of ensuring peaceful relations between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people and within aboriginal communities themselves.

Once again, the point of the forum is not to promote one point of view or another.  It is to allow diverse, and even conflicting, opinions to be expressed so that real debate can take place on aboriginal policy formulation.  By looking at different points of view, and analyzing the logic and evidence that is used to support them, we can all develop a greater understanding of this difficult and complex policy area.

It is also important to recognize that Mount Royal University is a leader in the promotion of critical inquiry and the protection of academic freedom; it is doubtful that such a debate could take place at any other university in Canada.  Hopefully the forum will provide a model whereby other controversial issues can be discussed in a collegial fashion.

Here we go again…

April 24, 2010

On April 23, 2010, the “Solidarity with Six Nations” posted an open letter “protesting the presence of anti-native ‘militia’ leaders” at the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum at Mount Royal University on May 5, 2010.  The open letter contains a link to a petition with a few hundred signatures.

The open letter is notable for three reasons.  The first is the misinformation that it contains.  Neither Gary McHale (CANACE), nor Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project), is a member of any “militia”.  Also, it is erroneously implied that McHale and Vandermaas were the perpetrators of the violence that occurred in Caledonia.  It is noted that “Mr. McHale was from 2007 to 2010 banned from entering Caledonia due to bail conditions stemming from the eruption of violence…”, but it is not mentioned that it was Six Nations residents who were the perpetrators; McHale and Vandermaas were the victims. If you are curious as to why it was a victim of violence, rather than the perpetrators, who was banned from the community, you are not alone.  Welcome to the bizarre world of “culturally sensitive” policing.

Secondly, there is the constant accusation of racism without one shred of evidence being presented.  The spurious linkage of McHale and Vandermaas to white supremacists is made on the basis that “Paul Fromm, a high profile white supremacist leader, best known for his support of holocaust denier Ernest Zundel, has actively publicized McHale and his events on the neo-nazi website Stormfront. Fromm has been photographed at McHale led events, as have other members of neo-Nazi organizations such as the London, Ontario ‘Northern Alliance’ group”.  But this is the result of the mistaken logic that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”.  Obviously, white supremacists would oppose movements for indigenous sovereignty, as the latter often assert the cultural (racial?) superiority of those who are not “White” (because of the alleged aboriginal “spiritual relationship to the land” and their “covenant with the Creator”).  This, however, is unrelated to McHale and Vandermaas’ criticsm of indigenous sovereignty, which is NOT racially motivated; it is rooted in the LIBERAL value of equality  under the law – something that tribal societies, with their kinship orientation, resist.

This distinction between liberalism and racism is lost on “Solidarity with Six Nations”.  They even imply that my views are tainted by racist assumptions when I argue that “current demands for ‘aboriginal nationalism’ and ‘sovereignty’, because they connect land to ancestry, have more in common with the ideology of Nazi Germany than left-wing ideas”.  So, to point out instances of racist viewpoints is to be racist?  And what about the content of my argument?  Is the attempt by some Mohawks to maintain “cultural purity” by evicting non-Mohawks from their land, and the comments by Chief Wayne Roan of the Ermineskin Band that “the moose and elk do not mate, that is the natural law …Our elders have always said Cree should marry Cree to preserve the culture and way of life” (Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry, p. 107), similar to the doctrines that were expressed in Nazi Germany?  If there are any doubts, these ideas should be compared with some of the more pernicious statements in Mein Kampf.

“Solidary with Six Nations” argues that “we believe that the inclusion of McHale and Vandermaas in a discussion on Aboriginal Policy will serve to normalize racism, aggression, appropriation, and citizen-led militias as tools to solve localized conflicts over Indigenous lands, whereas what is needed is a recognition of Indigenous land rights, nation to nation negotiations and the peaceful settlement of land claims”.  But how can this be determined?  Why is it believed that “recognition of Indigenous land rights, nation to nation negotiations and the peaceful settlement of land claims” is “what is needed”?  How can we know that this will achieve “peace and justice in Caledonia and Six Nations”?  The plea for “nation to nation” negotiations, for example, is based on the erroneous assumption that groups of a few hundred people with no economic base or capacity to assert statehood are “nations” – a fabrication that cannot be challenged because of the Aboriginal Industry’s control over current policy discussions. 

This brings me to the third, and most important, point – that the petition is an outrageous attack on freedom of inquiry within the university.  The same people who correctly opposed the attempts to muzzle speech during Israeli Apartheid Week are now, in an unprincipled fashion, trying to prevent challenging viewpoints being expressed about Caledonia and Ipperwash.  While the analysis of McHale and Vandermaas might be mistaken, none of us has perfect information or a monopoloy on truth.  Therefore, actual scholars should promote the free exchange of ideas to determine how best to proceed with this very complicated and difficult policy area.  Instead of promoting censorship and engaging in unwarranted smear campaigns, advocates for indigenous sovereignty should make their case on the basis of logic and evidence.  With all the accusations of “racism”, “hate”, “white supremacy”, etc., rational thinkers who might question some of the nonsense that masquerades as scholarship on aboriginal policy are likely to keep silent, impoverishing our capacity to more fully understand aboriginal-non-aboriginal relations and to make informed efforts to achieve social justice today.

The final version of the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forum program is now available on the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page on this blog (it is also cut and pasted below).  Work that has been undertaken by the various presenters also has been posted on that page.  One new development is that there has been an agreement between David Newhouse and myself to hold an exchange on incorporating “indigenous knowledge” into the academy in Panel III (“Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education”).  This exchange will concern Newhouse’s article “Ganigonhi:oh: The Good Mind Meets the Academy”, Canadian Journal of Native Education, 31(1), 2008, pp. 184-197.  Another addition is Glenn North Peigan, who, along with Albert Howard, will be responding to Tom Flanagan’s views on aboriginal property rights.

FW

***

New Directions in Aboriginal Policy 

Free Public Forum at Mount Royal University

Nickle Theatre (Main Building, West Gate)

Calgary, Alberta, May 5, 2010

Sponsored by:

Mount Royal University’s Department of Policy Studies,

Faculty of Arts Scholarly Events Committee,

and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

8:30-9:00              Coffee

9:00-9:20              Opening Remarks

 Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation

 9:20-10:00            Keynote Address

 Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy) – The State of First Nations in Canada Today

 10:00-10:15         Coffee

 10:15-12:00         Panel I – Private Property and Native Economic Development (Chair: Kari Roberts)

 Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) – Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights

Albert Howard (Independent Researcher) – Field of Dreams: “Building” Aboriginal Economies with Property Ownership

Glenn North Peigan (University of Lethbridge) – The Treaties, Economic Development Funding and Aboriginal Dependency

Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre For Public Policy) – The Politics of Cutting Your Losses: Non-viable Reserves and Aboriginal Economic Development

12:00-1:00            Lunch Break

1:00-2:45              Panel II – Aboriginal Sovereignty, Indigenous Nationalism, and the Rule of Law (Chair: Miriam Carey)

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina) – The Aboriginal National Question: Colonialism, Self-Determination and the New Right

Gary McHale (CANACE) – The Face of Aboriginal Sovereignty Versus the Rule of Law in Caledonia

Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project) – Listening to Victims: A Fresh Approach to Reconciliation and Healing 

2:45-3:00              Coffee

3:00-5:00              Panel III – Traditional Cultural Revitalization and Aboriginal Education (Chair: Jennifer Pettit)

Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) – Bilingual Education in Nunavut: Trojan Horse or Paper Tiger?

Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia) – Aboriginal Educational Successes in Australia: Mass Tertiary Education and the Development of an Indigenous Academic Class

David Newhouse (Trent University) – Canada Meets the Good Mind

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Good Mind and Critical Thinking: Exploring the Implications of “Indigenous Knowledge” Meeting the Academy

5:00-8:00              Reception (Faculty Centre)

As today is Easter, and we are being encouraged to celebrate the absurd notion of the resurrection of a mythical Supreme Being (chocolate eggs and bunnies are a recent addition so as to offer a more enticing bribe to the young), supplications at the Vatican are being prominently covered.  The usual deference of the media towards religious propaganda, however, is being tempered by allegations that Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) obstructed justice by attempting to cover up the sexual abuse of boys by catholic priests.  In a letter to bishops in 2001, Benedict ordered that sexual abuse allegations be “subject to pontifical secret”, a breach of which could result in excommunication.  The letter also demanded that initial investigations of abuse should be sent to Ratzinger’s office, which could choose to divert them to church tribunals where the “functions of judge, promoter of justice, notary and legal representative can validly be performed for these cases only by priests” (www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/apr/24/children.childprotection)

The most recent scandal involves documents that emerged in March 2010 showing that a secret canonical trial that could have resulted in Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy’s dismissal was halted after Murphy wrote a letter personally appealing to Ratzinger.  Murphy is alleged to have molested as many as 200 boys, but he was never disciplined by the church; instead he was transferred to another diocese where he spent 24 years interacting with children.  Although several American bishops raised the alarm about Murphy, correspondence shows that the highest priority of officials was in ensuring that the church was protected from scandal (www.nytimes.com/2010/03/25/world/europe/25vatican.html).  Benedict is also facing other criticisms that he did not alert civilian authorities about priests involved in sexual abuse when he was an archbishop in Germany.

These circumstances have led to a great deal of soul seaching within the catholic church.  One of the most common responses, however, is to defend the church, claiming that the entire institution should not be judged on the basis of the actions of a few mouldy wafers.  On CBC Newsworld today, for example, Neil MacCarthy, a representative of the Archdiocese of Toronto, compared paedophile priests to police officers, teachers and lawyers who abuse the public trust. 

Arguments like those of MacCarthy show the extent of denial that exists in the catholic church.  They ignore the systematic climate of secrecy and contempt for state authority that exists within the institution.  It is apparent that the power wielded by the Vatican continues to enable church officials to envision themselves as being above the law.  There is also the question of the extent to which Catholicism itself contributes to paedophilia within the institution.  Unlike police officers, teachers and lawyers, the catholic church dictates that priests must be celibate.  This stipulation ensures that the priesthood is likely to attract a higher proportion of sexual deviancy than would be present in the wider population. 

One positive result of the growing scandal is that the power of the catholic church is weakening.  The enormous power of the Vatican in global affairs is increasingly coming under scrutiny.  But there still needs to be a recognition that the current “crisis” is not accidental; it is rooted in the irrationality and deference that superstition, Catholic or otherwise, demands.

The draft program for the forum is available on the New Directions in Aboriginal Policy Forums page.   This program will likely change a little after additional information is received.  It is hoped that this program will be completed by the end of next week.  I am still attempting to find additional aboriginal academics and activists to present perspectives on aboriginal sovereignty and indigenous “ways of knowing”.  The hope is to have as wide a range of viewpoints as is possible presented at the forum.

FW

***

New Directions in Aboriginal Policy

Free Public Forum at Mount Royal University

Nickle Theatre (Main Building, West Gate)

Calgary, Alberta, May 5, 2010

Sponsored by:

Mount Royal University’s Department of Policy Studies,

Faculty of Arts Scholarly Events Committee,

and the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

8:30-9:00              Coffee

9:00-9:20              Opening Remarks

Frances Widdowson (Mount Royal University) – The Kindly Inquisition Influencing Aboriginal Policy Formulation

9:20-10:00            Keynote Address

 Don Sandberg (Frontier Centre for Public Policy) – The State of First Nations in Canada Today

10:00-10:15         Coffee

10:15-12:00         Panel I – Private property and native economic development

Tom Flanagan (University of Calgary) – Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights

Joseph Quesnel (Frontier Centre For Public Policy) – The Politics of Cutting your Losses: Non-viable Reserves and Aboriginal Economic Development

Albert Howard (Independent Researcher, Canada) – Field of Dreams: “Building” Aboriginal Economies

12:00-1:00            Lunch Break

1:00-3:00              Panel II – Aboriginal sovereignty, indigenous nationalism, and the rule of law 

Gary McHale (CANACE) and Mark Vandermaas (Caledonia Victims Project) – TBA

Ron Bourgeault (University of Regina) – TBA 

3:00-3:15              Coffee Break 

3:15-5:00              Panel III – Indigenous “ways of knowing”, critical thinking and education

Andrew Hodgkins (University of Alberta) – Bilingual Education in Nunavut: Trojan Horse or Paper Tiger?

Joseph Lane (Independent Researcher, Australia) – Indigenous Education in Australia: Standard Tertiary Programs and the Development of an Indigenous Academic Class

David Newhouse (Trent University) – TBA

5:00-8:00              Reception (Faculty Centre)