Professor taking part in the Nelson Mandela Dialogues

By Costa Maragos Posted: June 26, 2017 6:00 a.m.

Dr. James Daschuk, associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, is the author of the acclaimed Clearing the Plains, published by U of R Press.
Dr. James Daschuk, associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, is the author of the acclaimed Clearing the Plains, published by U of R Press. Photo courtesy of External Relations

Dr. James Daschuk, associate professor and author of the acclaimed book Clearing the Plains, has been invited to take part in the Canadian Nelson Mandela Dialogues.

The conference, June 26 – July 1, brings together more than 30 human rights advocates from Canada and around the world. The theme is reconciliation with the focus on the 94 recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

“I’m honoured to be a part of the dialogues,” says Daschuk. “Rather than an academic conference of people giving papers, this is people having discussions with Canadians who are international leaders in human rights that will be there. This will be a really good experience for me.”

Conference participants from Canada include:

  • Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum) - co-founder of the “Idle No More” movement and an alumna of the University of Regina.
  • Noah Richler - author, journalist and cultural critic.
  • Beverly Jacobs - lawyer from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Southern Ontario.

International delegates include:

  •  Emina Bužinkić - program coordinator and coordinator of activities related to the advocacy of reparations of civilian war victims and monitoring of war crime trials. She’s the former president of the Croatian Youth Network.
  • Vannak Hang - Chief of Victims Support Section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia.
  • Wachira Waheire - survivor of the infamous former Nyayo House torture Chambers. He worked for two and a half years with the Kenya Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission as Human Rights Officer.

This is the fourth time the Nelson Mandela Dialogues are taking place. The other three occurred in South Africa, Germany and Sri Lanka where people in those countries continue to grapple with their own reconciliations.

“They’ll be telling us about their road to reconciliation and what things have worked and what things haven’t worked, because we as Canadians still have a long way to go down that road,” says Daschuk.

Daschuk is an associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies. He has a PhD in history from the University of Manitoba. His book, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and the Loss of Aboriginal Life, is published by U of R Press, the University’s publishing house.

The book has won numerous awards including the Governor General’s Medal for scholarly research in history. The Literary Review of Canada has named the book to its list of the 25 most influential Canadian books over the last 25 years.

“One of my goals with Clearing the Plains was to look at anticedent of the present health disparities,” says Daschuk. “I mean you can measure social inequity by inequity in health. So one of the reasons why I was invited was to provide a historical background to try to understand how we got into this absurd situation, where we have one racialized group that’s got such a different life experience than the rest of us.”

The conference is hosted by the Enoch Cree Nation, located near Edmonton. Conference participants will tour Blue Quills University, Canada’s first Indigenous-controlled education centre. The University, located on the Enoch Cree Nation, was once a residential school.

“Enoch Cree Nation has offered its own hotel facility to us at no cost. They’ve opened their home and community to us,” says Daschuk.

However, for the most part, the days will be filled with discussions and an exchange of ideas, celebrating and critically examining the restorative justice, healing and reconciliation movement in Canada.

“We’ll take what we’ve learned back to our communities to share with others and hope to make a difference,” says Daschuk.