#ACW2017 Blog Series: Reconciliation and Belonging in a Highly Mobile Culture

David Diamond is a co-founder (1981) and Artistic/Managing Director (since 1984) of Theatre for Living (formerly Headlines Theatre).

He is the AATE Distinguished Book Award winning author of Theatre for Living: the art and science of community-based dialogue, available in English and German at all online sellers.


Introducing the #ACW2017 Blog Series

This is the beginning of a series of blogs written by community-engaged arts practitioners, thinkers, and change makers from a range of backgrounds. These blogs are meant to offer perspectives to provoke and inspire, to challenge, and to enrich the national conversation around art for social change (ASC).

We hope this series will seed thinking and discussion and give you an enticing sampler, avant goût, of the conversations leading up to, and during, The Art of Changing the World (ACW) 2017, in Ottawa, November 3-5.

The first blog in this series is by David Diamond, who will be co-facilitating the session “Reconciliation and Hope” with Renae Morriseau at ACW 2017.

“Reconciliation and Hope” will explore: What does the word “reconciliation” mean for both Indigenous and Settler communities today? First Nations artists and their colleagues who all work in community settings explore the landscape of movement towards reconciliation and justice in its many forms, contexts and possibilities.

>>> See more details about our ACW 2017 gathering and registration and check out the ACW 2017 program


Reconciliation and “belonging” in a highly mobile culture

by David Diamond

I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 64 years ago.  My grandparents were child immigrants, fleeing oppression in Russia. I am fairly certain that, as children, the reality that they were putting down roots on stolen land never occurred to them. That wasn’t the Canada they were told about, dreamt about or, in their minds, to which they came and to which they wanted to belong. One must also acknowledge that they never bothered to find out and neither did my parents. In my childhood, no one in “my world” talked about Indigenous issues. I grew up completely unaware of the truth of Canadian history — Colonialism, stolen land, Residential Schools, and attempted genocide.

In my childhood, no one in “my world” talked about Indigenous issues. I grew up completely unaware of the truth of Canadian history — Colonialism, stolen land, Residential Schools, and attempted genocide.

As an adult, I have no sense of connection to Mother Russia, and now that both parents have passed away, feel no “pull” to go back to Winnipeg, a place, for family reasons, I knew I had to leave when I was 8 years old.

I now live 1,865 k from the place I was born – in Vancouver – a place I call “home” and feel I “belong” here.

It’s taken a lot of internally challenging work to understand that my 42-year-old roots in Vancouver, while important to me, are not the same as the 10,000+ year old roots of my xʷməθkʷəy̓əm/Musqueam, Skwxwú7mesh/Squamish and səl̓ilwətaɁɬ/Tsleil-Waututh friends and colleagues. All of us have a desire and, I’d suggest a right, to “belong” to the place we call home – but we must also recognize that not everyone “belongs”, historically, in the same way.

This is a challenging dilemma. I am part of, as many people reading this will be part of, a new, highly mobile, essentially rootless culture, the likes of which the Earth has never seen before. This has meaning to how we live with each other and how we inhabit the planet and how we ‘belong’ on, in and to this land.

The culture out of which I grew (and Western Science grew) envisioned the universe as a machine in which everything could be reduced to the smallest unit. This Reductionist view has played a large role in mechanizing both the systems we humans create, and unfortunately, mechanizing us humans as well.

It is extremely difficult to authentically “belong” in a mechanized, disconnected world. And this leads to trying to consider ways to “belong” from inside the mechanization, ways to belong that are not healthy.

This brings me back to being part of a new and highly mobile, essentially rootless culture.

The ancestral roots that my Indigenous friends and colleagues have is not available to me, as much as I might hunger for it. So, what do I do? Especially when I recognize that my hunger for something I cannot have may lead me to appropriate aspects of Indigenous culture – to try to own them myself?

I can and must recognize the connections I DO have, as part of something new – this highly mobile, essentially rootless culture – because I am rootless only by an old definition of what that means.

About six years ago I did a theatre project called “Us and Them”. It asked audiences to consider this: When does Humanity grow up? When do we recognize that we live on a tiny blue speck, hanging in the middle of vast nothingness. I am a Star Trek fan, but really, science fiction aside, we have nowhere to go. Understanding this, who are THEY? And in the end, isn’t the Earth the Ancestral Home of us all?

If we embrace a sense of belonging that is not Reductionist, does not confuse “belonging” with “ownership”, or having “dominion over”, but rather recognizes the physical, even mystical interconnectedness of everything, then we have a chance of knowing that “belonging” implies stewardship responsibilities, instead of economic opportunities.

All of us share a “belonging” to this tiny blue speck called Mother Earth. This might seem like a small, obvious and even clichéd thing, but considering the destructive nature of the highly mobile culture that has manifested in the 21st Century, it is not. Here’s why: If we embrace a sense of belonging that is not Reductionist, does not confuse “belonging” with “ownership”, or having “dominion over”, but rather recognizes the physical, even mystical interconnectedness of everything, then we have a chance of knowing that “belonging” implies stewardship responsibilities, instead of economic opportunities.  If we understand this – not as academic concepts but as moment to moment ways of living – then we have a chance to begin a process of true and honourable Reconciliation, not only with Indigenous Nations, but with the planet, and through that Reconciliation, achieve (once again) a state of authentic belonging.

Of course, true and honourable Reconciliation must also include things like return of stolen land from inside Canadian legal structures, but that is a whole other blog post.