Establishing uncommon ground

Bechtel Lecturer says 'we are all treaty people'.






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Publication: Canadian Mennonite
Author: Fish, Susan
Date published: April 18, 2011

Roger Epp, Ph.D., founding dean of the University of Alberta's Augustana campus and professor of political studies, delivered the 2011 Bechtel Lectures at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo.

Epp, whose research and writing probe the meaning of place in Canada's rural west, spoke on the theme, "We are all treaty people," exploring relationships between Canada's Aboriginal Peoples and settlers in new ways, with the goal of helping all people to live well in their particular landscape.

Referring to McMaster professor Daniel Coleman's ideas of creating "uncommon ground," a place of dialogue rather than ignoring or fearing human differences, Epp gave two recent examples of establishing uncommon ground: the 2006 Stony Knoll declaration of harmony and justice between aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in Laird, Sask., and the January 2011 Centennial Round Dance held at Epp's Augustana College, where aboriginal graduates were honoured for their hard work in succeeding academically while living in two cultures.

Rather than seeking a policy-oriented national solution, Epp encouraged direct human encounters. "Be a neighbour, not an advocate," he said, noting that when people relate to each other, rather than seeking solutions, they learn and might even enjoy the process.

Epp's goal in his lectures was not to "stand on a prophetic soapbox," but to "encourage" those assembled to consider their relationship with aboriginals in their area. Calling for a "practical hermeneutic," he suggested the need to recognize the two cultures' enduring differences, the unavoidability of face-to-face encounters, and the importance of understanding - rather than defeating or dismissing - in order to live together well. Rather than seeing themselves as inheritors of a new land, he said that non-aboriginals should see themselves as being part of a country "founded on an act of sharing almost incomprehensible in its generosity."

To Mennonites in particular, Epp sees author Rudy Wiebe's experience as exemplary as he accepted the invitation of Yvonne Johnson, an aboriginal woman, to co-write her story, respecting their differences while, at the same time, listening in order to understand. Mennonites, Epp said, do not have a special role in reconciliation, but Mennonites do have resources in their stories of being outsiders and people attracted by a land that offered peaceful co-existence. These stories are ones they can share with their aboriginal neighbours even as they first listen to their stories.

Author affiliation:

STORY AND PHOTO BY SUSAN FISH

Special to Canadian Mennonite

WATERLOO, ONT.

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