On March 9th, the Jeanne Sauvé Forum Series on Social Connectedness and International Development continued its Winter 2017 session with an event on “Holistic Approaches to Global Challenges and Building Social Connectedness”.
The Forum Series, created by Kim Samuel in collaboration with the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation, explores the root causes of social isolation, along with strategies for building social connectedness through international policy and program development. It began last fall with weekly discussions at the historic Jeanne Sauvé House in Montreal covering a variety of topics, from the ongoing refugee crisis to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. The Series is also closely linked with Professor Samuel’s fourth-year seminar course on social connectedness at McGill University, the first of its kind.
The March 9th Forum Series event brought together two unique perspectives that share key commonalities: The Harmony perspective developed by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales and expressed eloquently in his 2010 book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World; and Indigenous Peoples’ Worldviews expressed in Canada and around the world. These approaches emphasize the holistic relationship between humanity and the natural world, as well as the importance of traditional wisdom in addressing the challenges we face today.
Opening the evening, Indigenous Elder Charlie Patton introduced these themes by reminding the audience: “This earth is your mother; she will nurture you.” He referenced a number of natural phenomena, from animals to grass, plants and waterways, underscoring their relationship to humankind. One particular concern raised by Elder Charlie surrounded the issue of resource extraction. He argued that humanity no longer does it in a way that respects the earth and all the gifts that it provides us.
Moderator Kim Samuel added to Elder Charlie’s introduction, explaining that Harmony and Indigenous Peoples’ Worldviews are essentially about “creating or restoring relationships.” She continued, “To me, this is at the root of overcoming social isolation and building specific strategies that create and sustain community between peoples, and also with the natural world.”
Ms. Samuel recalled lessons she has taken away from Indigenous leaders in Canada with whom she’s worked, such as Ovide Mercredi and Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. She shared how Chief Atleo once told her the central law of his people, the Nuu-chah-nulth, is “tsawalk,” which means, “We are one.” Ms. Samuel added that this appreciation for ‘oneness’ and connection is powerfully experienced in Indigenous cultures and ceremonies around the world. But, particularly in Canada, she noted that the process of Reconciliation presents Canadians with “the obligation and the rich opportunity to appreciate, to learn, and to truly understand these ceremonies and the Indigenous worldview so that we can apply these lessons to other challenges we face.”
As an example, Ms. Samuel raised the issue of education, stating that learning is more than just what happens within the classroom. She argued that we must fully support young people by “taking a lead role in their learning, connecting to their lives and their environments, providing hands-on experiences, ensuring awareness and empathy for their situations, and by providing tools and supports to help them reach their full potential.”
The Sauvé House audience was then introduced to the Harmony perspective by Ian Skelly, TV & Radio Broadcaster with the BBC, Advisor and Speechwriter to HRH The Prince of Wales, and co-author of Harmony. The book argues that the solutions to our most pressing modern challenges must be rooted in attempts at regaining a balance with nature, and by incorporating the traditional wisdom of our past with the modern science of our present. Mr. Skelly noted that the important intersections between issues concerning the Prince — such as poverty, climate change, destruction of the rainforest, and the preservation of sacred architecture — are what led him to that conclusion.
Mr. Skelly demonstrated the incredible harmonic qualities of natural phenomena, from the way fish swim the oceans to planetary rotation and mathematical sequences. He lamented, however, that Western materialism has made us forget about the important role of nature in our lives. Further, he argued that there has been a shift in thought to only focus on progress and not traditional views, as articulated throughout history by the likes of Lao Tzu and Thomas Aquinas. Mr. Skelly then showed how The Prince of Wales has sought to implement Harmony — for example, through his urban designs, intended to build community and connections with nature.
Following Mr. Skelly, Kenneth Deer, an expert in international Indigenous issues and Professor of Practice at McGill University’s Institute for the Study of International Development, emphasized the valuable knowledge of Indigenous people on environmental issues. However, he expressed concern that this knowledge is being ignored, notably with respect to oil pipeline construction in Canada. He stated, “We’re not against development; we’re against bad development.” Mr. Deer then noted, “There’s a holistic way of building communities,” and that Indigenous people are willing to share their perspective.
The open discussion carried on that theme, with Mr. Skelly pointing out that children and families are critical to building local communities — because people need help to raise children. However, he also said that Western philosophy has made it okay for people to opt out of the natural world and their communities. “Decide to opt in, rather than opt out,” he encouraged the audience. This resonated with many of the young people in the audience, who were challenged to think about what to take away from the perspectives shared at the event.
The Winter 2017 Series will feature two more events. The first, entitled “Beyond Food Banks: Sustainability, Social Justice and Belonging in the Urban Environment,” will feature a panel of leading experts with direct community experience, including: Rachel Gray, Executive Director, The Stop Community Food Center (Toronto); and Diana Bronson, Executive Director, Food Secure Canada (Montreal). Please join us for this event on April 3rd from 5:00 – 7:00pm at the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation in Montreal (1514 Docteur-Penfield Avenue).
And then the last event of the academic year will feature a dynamic discussion between professors and students on holistic education and building community in the classroom. This special event will be held on April 12th from 6:00 – 8:00pm at McGill University’s Faculty Club in Montreal. More details to come soon!