The Return of History

I recently had the privilege of attending one of this year’s Massey Lectures in Vancouver, all being presented by this year’s powerhouse lecturer Jennifer Welsh.

The Massey Lectures have taken place annually since 1961 in honour of Vincent Massey, former Governor General of Canada. Each year since, CBC has invited a noted scholar to present a five-part series of lectures that focus on a political, cultural or historical topic that focus on original research in their field. These are the biggest thinkers and most important intellectuals of our times. Previous lecturers have been Martin Luther King Jr., Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, Lawrence Hill and in 2003 the first Indigenous lecturer: Novelist Thomas King.

By being invited to be the 2016 lecturer, Jennifer Welsh is validated as being one of these types of big thinkers. One that shapes the landscape of what follows.

Jennifer has an internationally impressive reputation. Regina born, she recently completed her role as Special Advisor to the UN secretary-general on the Responsibility to Protect. She co-founded the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and currently she is a professor of international relations at the European Union University Institute in Florence and is a fellow of Sommerville College at Oxford.

The theme of her CBC Broadcast 2016 Massey Lectures is what Brian Bethune of MacLean’s magazine called “her sober state-of-the-world assessment” that is accompanied by the release of her new book The Return of History: Conflict, Migration and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century.”

Jennifer is also Métis.

Take that in for a minute.

It’s time we start paying attention to Jennifer Welsh and what she has to say as an internationally renowned expert in global politics, post-conflict reconstruction and the notion of sovereignty.

As Indigenous people we are slowly increasing our numbers in municipal, provincial and Federal government in the hopes of reaching a place where our people can be considered as part of a global landscape. Meanwhile Jennifer Welsh has been studying and helping shape the understanding of the world at a global level.

I attended her sold out lecture at the York Theatre entitled “The Return of Barbarism”. I appreciated her lecture so much. She connected the role of Western Liberal Democracy to the current state of affairs in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and explained to us “Why the West Hasn’t Won”.

Her lecture left me with so many questions and ready to devour the rest of her talks on CBC when they are available in October. But I was also left with some other questions. Why isn’t this making bigger headlines? Why isn’t she being profiled across the country with Métis and Indigenous leaders filling up all the seats? The lateral absence of commentary and support is stunning to me.

The very idea of reconciliation is rooted in the western ideal of liberal democracy. Liberal Democracy as a form of government that focuses on the protection of rights and freedoms of individuals. It places constraints on what can be done in which the will of the majority cannot overrule the rights of minorities. However the practice of liberal democracy is not cut and dry. How are those rights determined and who gets to assert them? The idea of reconciliation is that this part of our history is done now. We’ve moved on and reparations can be made. But it is Jennifer Welsh position that history is not done, it’s returning.

We need to increase our understanding of how liberal democracy has not worked to end extreme cruelty and brutality but has, in many cases, worked to entrench them is essential if we are to change the nature of our relationship to the nation state as First Nations people and governments.

Jennifer Welsh is setting the stage on an international level and we as a community are missing it. We are missing our opportunity to understand our own circumstances as they relate to the world as a whole.

You can attend  Jennifer Welsh’s Massey Lectures at the following dates, or
here or  the 2016 CBC Massey Lectures will be broadcast on CBC Radio One IDEAS October 31 – November 4.

Halifax, NS – October 5, 7 p.m.
Lecture 4: The Return of the Cold War
Paul O’Regan Hall, Halifax Central Library
Presale: $27 regular
Regular price: $32 regular, students/seniors $20
Box Office: 902-422-6278 x500
Purchase tickets 
In person: at the Ticket Halifax Box Office/The Coast, 2309 Maynard Street

Toronto, ON – October 7, 7 p.m.
Lecture 5: The Return of Inequality
Koerner Hall
Presale: $45/$35 regular
Regular price: $50/$40 regular, students, $20, seniors $28
Box Office: 416-408-0208
Purchase tickets 

You can also purchase her new book that accompanies the lecture: The Return of History.

~Jessica Wood.

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