In his masterpiece The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison wrote: "I am an invisible man. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” The theme of invisibility, of flesh and bone, language and knowledge, inhabits us all. From art and theatre, to professional opportunities, social advancement and equity, the common denominator of the contemporary public debate is legitimate visibility. It is for the better that we see the people and cultures that our predominant practices exclude, to better respond to the desire for justice for visible minorities and the promise of reconciliation that has been clearly expressed, and repeated, for our First Nations.
It is with great humility and through a public consultation process that the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation will delve into these debates. We are at the dawn of our very first consultation! Alberta and the Northwest Territories will welcome us on September 10, 2018 for four days of dialogue, exchanges and meetings. We’re coming to listen to you.
With inclusive excellence and engaged leadership as the backdrop to our exchanges, we will begin our tour alongside Professor Malinda Smith, our 2018 Trudeau fellow who co-authored the excellent book, The Equity Myth. This book examines, for the first time in Canada, the status, representation and daily experiences of Indigenous and cultural minority faculty in Canadian English-language universities. While the academic community considers itself to be inclusive and an advocate of diversity, how can one explain that it paradoxically continues to exclude various forms of knowledge and makes only slow and flawed progress towards real equality of its members? How can one attain equity and what is our role in this uphill climb? These are questions we will discuss in our focus groups. I would like to thank our wonderful scientific committee, comprised of fellows, scholars and mentors, who have helped us fine tune the methodology which will be used during the public consultations.
However, academia is not the only sphere that continues to replicate inequalities. In an earnest letter published on July 14, 2018 in Le Devoir, Indigenous representatives decried the absence of Indigenous actors among the 34 cast members chosen by Robert Lepage in his play, Kanata, which ironically looks at the story of Canada through the lens of relations between whites and indigenous people. "We understand that the adventure will go on without us, once again," write the authors. "One of the challenges we face in Canada is to get most people to respect us on a daily basis … even in the artistic community. That we are invisible in the public space, on the stage, does not help us. What we want is for our talents to be recognized and celebrated today and in the future, because WE ARE."
This question of existence and non-existence, of presence and absence, of visibility and invisibility, is difficult and often painful because it rests on the assumption that justice is imperfect and partial. Olivier Voirol also admirably broaches the subject in his book Struggles for Visibility, reminding us that these struggles are uneven, and often favour authorities while some groups are condemned to invisibility. However, to constitute a self, one must be able to make oneself visible, to exist, to be seen and to be heard!
As part of its new strategic direction following the consultation period, the Foundation will seek strategies to make inclusion and diversity within its community a tangible reality. That's why your participation is so important! I invite you to register for the first consultation which will take place from September 10 to 14, 2018 in Edmonton, Yellowknife and Calgary.
Please use one of these forms from August 15th until September 1st 2018:
Very soon, the Foundation will build on Ellison's work: "And I love light. Perhaps you'll think it strange that an invisible man should need light, desire light, love light. But maybe it is exactly because I am invisible. Light confirms my reality, gives birth to my form.” By being on the ground, we will seek out that light that gives birth to the visibility of bodies, voices and opinions.