Embracing Learning Opportunities

By Magdalena Martinez

The 2018 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Regina, Saskatchewan, brought attention to pressing issues facing Canadian society and offered a space to share and create knowledge. The University of Regina presented the theme of “Gathering diversities” to guide the conferences organized by 66 scholarly associations and open events visited by over 5,000 attendees.

Creating a welcoming space for academics across the country to meet, the university encouraged dialogue on pressing issues relating to diversity in Canada. Central to this event was the recognition of Indigenous rights and the urging need to reflect on Indigenous-settler relationships and solidarities.

“Gathering diversities”: mâmawinitotân nanâtohk-ayisiyiniwak

Events taking place during Congress acknowledged the land and Indigenous communities that are situated in Regina. Beyond land recognition, several other steps were taken to raise awareness and reflect on current issues, not the least  in the interest of participants to connect scholarly presentations to the themes of diversity.

Congress showed that alternative learning strategies are important ways to disseminate research findings and to engage in learning. Spaces for sharing and exchanging knowledge and ideas took different forms. SSHRC’s storytellers presented their research interests and scholarly work through engaging stories. Musical and artistic performances explored themes of reconciliation and protest. Documentary film screenings tackled issues of human rights and climate change.

On Monday May 28th, a special event captivated the Congress audience at the Riddell centre of the University of Regina. Buffy Sainte-Marie gave an impactful performance that brought together many of the themes of congress. Cree singer-songwriter, Buffy is a world renowned musician. As an educator and activist, her songs spoke to the issues of war and peace, Indigenous resistance, and climate change.

The events of the Canadian Society for the Study of Higher Education (CSSHE) conference, held from May 27 to 29, contributed to the general discussion around diversity. On the first day, keynote speaker Dr. Malinda Smith from the University of Alberta addressed issues of gender and race in academia. Dr. Smith’s work centres around the barriers to success for minority women in all academic fields.

Dr. Smith asked the audience, “How diverse is your syllabus?”, raising important considerations for scholars, teachers, educators, and students. For instance, university professors should encourage a diverse set of reading material for their students. PhD students should critically observe their thesis bibliography to include authors with different perspectives. Including diversity in our research and practice can enhance our work academically and increase critical thinking skills.

Connecting with the city

Absorbing knowledge shared during congress is a challenge! Presenting to colleagues, moving from one classroom to the next, and from one big event to the other is exciting. However, learning requires space to think and process information. Congress offered many opportunities to engage with others informally, take a break while listening to local musicians, or simply taking a walk across the beautiful campus.

Congress also gives us the opportunity to explore what the host cities have to offer. I arrived to the Royal Museum of Saskatchewan and visited the Life Sciences Gallery, First Nations Gallery, and the Earth Sciences Gallery. The First Nations Gallery showed the history, culture, and tradition of Aboriginal peoples in Saskatchewan. “We are all treaty people,” an exhibit on Treaty 4, was a strong message for all visitors to consider our place in treaties across Canada. Moreover, the exhibit presented a rare document with records of Treaty 4 promises from the Indigenous perspective.

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Discussing important moments in Congress, OISE student Aamir Taiyeb expressed the sentiment that his learning experience was enhanced by visiting the Saskatchewan Legislative building, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, and other spaces that reflected the history of the city and province.

Circles of Conversation

Congress 2018 built momentum to address issues of diversity, and Congress 2019 at the University of British Columbia proposes the theme of “Circles of Conversation”, inviting participants to consider relationships between university and the communities they serve, including indigenous communities.

I look forward to seeing you there next year!

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