Volume 16 Number 5
Dialogue in Their Site
01 October 2003 is worth visiting. You will find vigorous, frank, constructive discussion between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. is worth visiting. You will find vigorous, frank, constructive discussion between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. The site owes its existence to a Toronto woman’s decision to explore her family’s history.

Victoria Freeman is an unusual historian. Her working life has encompassed a variety of occupations, from sheep midwifery through teaching to organizing literary conferences. Through it all, she got to know a number of indigenous Canadians. Gradually she recognized the depth of their mistrust of non-indigenous Canadians, and sought the reasons for this.

Increasingly she became dissatisfied with the standard approach to Canadian history. She felt there was too little understanding of what happened between the settlers from Europe and the indigenous North Americans they displaced. Until this was corrected, there was no hope of building trust.

So she decided to write a history, taking her own family–the first of whom arrived in America in 1634–as her reference point. To write it, she had to go to indigenous people and learn how they saw the encounter. At first, many were suspicious. But gradually suspicion gave way to trust. The result is a compelling 530-page book, Distant Relations–how my ancestors colonized North America, (McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, 2002).

As the book circulated, Freeman received invitations to speak, and discovered that she was far from alone; there was unease in many Canadians about the issues she raised. But few knew where to go to discuss them.

So she got together with indigenous friends including Dorothy Christian of the Okanagan-Shuswap people; Professor Brian Rice of the Mohawk people; and Mary Alice Smith, President of the Anishinaabe-Kweg Aboriginal Women’s Organization of Kenora. They also felt that there were too few avenues through which Canadians could learn to relate to each other. They decided to develop a website, as one way to meet this need. They brought together an advisory panel, and managed to raise $3,000. Then they set to work.

‘We have found that hearing each other’s truth can be transforming,’ they write on the home page. ‘True dialogue is a necessary first step along the road to change and any eventual reconciliation.’

The forum has several components. First, there is a talking circle, through which people can launch a discussion. Recent topics include indigenous spirituality, Canadian place names, and white guilt. Then there is a book club, an environmental forum dealing with indigenous approaches to environmental issues, an action forum offering ways for people to get involved in initiatives to answer injustice, and a forum called revisioning Canada ‘for those interested in working together to revise our understanding and teaching of Canadian history’.

Freeman has now gone back to university in Toronto to do a doctorate in Canadian history.
John Bond

Unless stated otherwise, all content on this site falls under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence 3.0