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  • David Donaldson

The Universe Next Door

... is the title of a book I read at least 35 years ago that may have ignited in me a quest to understand culture; to understand the "other". The lack of a willingness to understand leads to fear; fear leads to -- at best, mistrust, at worst war.


In my seminary days a prof made us read a little book, Class Matters by a socialist, feminist, African-American woman, sociologist Bell Hooks. I disliked the book; the author lives in the universe next door to mine. Our prof asked the class to break up in small groups for discussion. I sat across the table from Iris, a beautiful, strong, Black Canadian journalist. When it was my turn to speak about the book, I told them how much I disliked the book, especially the part that blamed social problems on patriarchal, capitalist, conservative white men. "It blames all the world's problems on me!" Iris leaned across the table into my space: "But you are not a Black woman!" The clash of universes.


Last week I sat at a table with four leaders of the local Native Resource Centre, and I asked them about ways of cultural communication. To be fair, one of the woman at the table did not lean across and say, "You are not a First Nations' woman!" But she did, in effect. She was succinct in her declaration that we (First Nations and "White" people) have totally different paradigms -- we live in different universes. I left that meeting overwhelmed at the complexity and distance between the universes that must live together in our country.


That meeting happened mere days before two Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs heightened the protest against the Natural Gas Pipeline; a protest that has spread across the country and closed the CN Railway. The issues are profound, multi-faceted and complex, to state the obvious. But, let me remind us all the almost prophetic words of Senator Murray Sinclair in a Globe and Mail Editorial, November 14, 2019:

"It is particularly important for the legal community to begin its journey towards reconciliation. This is why the TRC has called upon the Federation of Law Societies to ensure that lawyers receive cultural competency training, and upon law schools to require all students to take a course in Indigenous peoples and the law." (Emphasis mine)


Studying, applying, taking seriously, and being intentional about our cultural intelligence is essential to a well-rounded education.


... and I didn't even get to the rash (not to say xenophobic) actions of banning all Chinese people from cruise ships! (as reported by CNN, Feb 8, 2020)



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