For weeks, I have been anticipating the opening of the Canadian Historical Association’s (CHA) annual conference because it meant that “Decolonizing 1867: Stories from the People” would be here. Organized by Stacy Nation-Knapper and Kathryn Magee Labelle and supported by the LR Wilson Institute for Canadian History at McMaster University, this event brought together artist Catherine Tammaro, Dr. Brittany Luby, graduate student Naomi Recollet, poet Helen Knott, doctoral student Jesse Thistle, and Dr. Carolyn Podruchny in a Ryerson University classroom to discuss how to approach the discussions we are and need to be having surrounding Canada 150 beyond some sort of celebratory remembrance of Confederation.
I am sure that my first few hours of the CHA were similar to others experiencing, like me, their first Congress. Colleagues from other institutions kindly introduce themselves simply because you happen to sit beside them. You see former co-workers, panel mates, or current classmates, seeking a quick catch-up over the days, months, or years that have passed since you last saw each other. And you jump in to the learning that can be gained from an impromptu car ride, coffee run, or shared train ride home, prepping yourself to do it all again the next day. And the next day. And the day after that.
But when organizer instructions ask you to form a circle in the lecture hall, eat catered food, and listen to the presenters before being invited yourself to join into the conversation as audience member, something feels different. This is not what I have been told to expect from a conference session.
And it only got better.
What happened last night was a session of learning, multidisciplinarity, and indigeneity. In displays of emotion and creativity, the discussion went from activist stance to treaty study through painting and poetry as well as linguistics and history, all meeting in a space of resistance and resilience. This was all taken in and informed, I think, by Labelle’s invitation to “be brave and contribute to the conversation” given at the session’s outset.
Among many takeaways, it was an echo of Labelle’s direction that remained with me as Knott introduced herself as an “accidental activist” needing to “resist or be run over” before blowing the crowd away with her words. It stuck with me while I listened to the implications of Luby’s captivating grammatical reading of Treaty 3. And I hope that it continues to stay forefront in my mind through the next three days of panel, lecture, and workshop attendance that I have in front of me.
Focused as I intend to be on seeking out sessions discussing the ways art and culture intersect with public history practice and the conversations we need to be having regarding Canada 150 both within and beyond the academy, perhaps this start ought to be heeded as a call to do the CHA differently.