Thinking critically and creatively a step toward social transformation: Nadia Duguay


Nadia Duguay is the Co-Founder of Exeko.

Interviewed by Elizabeth Pinnington

Pinnington: What do you find hopeful about what is currently happening in Canada?

Duguay: Our current reality in Canada is not that encouraging. However, the level of citizen awareness about social challenges seems to be increasing, about issues such as inequality, discrimination, the role culture plays in society, and the environment. I find this hopeful on a daily basis.

Recognizing the potential of individuals to move past prejudice to think critically and creatively is not a utopian act, but rather a first step in social transformation – something which is already happening here. Even if the road is long and we need many change agents along the way, it’s very encouraging to see citizen initiatives arising all across the country. At the political level, looking at municipalities is very encouraging. There you find openness, creativity, innovation collaboration and support for initiatives that move beyond prescribed sectors and social norms. This is undeniably encouraging.

Pinnington: When you look at the current situation in Canada, what worries you?

Duguay: Canada is one of the 10 most developed countries in the world. However, we still have flagrant inequalities. A whole segment of the population has fundamental rights that are not respected. Consider First Nations people, whose rights are systematically trampled, including access to a quality educational system.

It’s even more discouraging to see how far-reaching disinformation is in this country. Many Canadians think it is unjustified to continue talking about rights, as many people think everyone’s rights are already respected. The reality is that if you are born First Nations in this country, in addition to the housing challenges you will face – for example 68 per cent of Inuit living in Nunavik live in overpopulated homes – 53 per cent among you will live in homes that don’t respect the minimum building standard. You will be eight times more likely to be homeless in your lifetime, and 10 times more likely to go to prison. In 50 per cent of cases, you will have a longer sentence than other Canadians for the same crime. Serious questions arise from this.

Pinnington: If things don’t go well over the next 20 years, what will have happened?

Duguay: If we think about the darkest panorama for the next 20 years, the state will continue disengaging, the educational system will abdicate from its independence and citizens will become more disillusioned about the possibility for good things to happen. We will continue to develop societies where social status, the place you were born or your level of education, continue to dig deeper inequalities around human rights. Instead of looking at all the potential in our differences, we will continue to create imaginary borders between us, and create a self-sustaining system that constantly reinforces our limits.

Pinnington: If things go well in the next 20 years, what will have happened?

Duguay: We will be able to imagine citizens, politicians, and organizations in society that listen to one another, exchange with one another and recognize each other as complimentary actors who have the capacity to collaborate and create real solutions. All too often we attack each other about our problems, but we forget that others are also probably thinking carefully about initiatives before proposing them. We need to increase our capacity to be open to sharing knowledge and experiences, and to look at the Other as someone who could nourish our way of thinking. If everything goes well in 20 years, we will have understood that solutions will not be brought by organizations, researchers, or politics, but from society itself – through the capacity of individuals to recognize each other.

Pinnington: What are some important lessons from Canada’s history?

Duguay: I think that Residential Schools are a very important notion from our history that often get silenced or minimized. Our society needs to look this terrifying period of our history in the face, in order to learn from it and build a better understanding of our current issues. While Canada has not had great wars in our territory, we perpetrated a great cultural violence. It’s important to note that many involved in the Residential Schools had good intentions; they wanted to do good and to help. It is here that we have much to learn, about the importance of cultural identity, and also about the fact that we shouldn’t help people just because we want to. It’s only through a careful reading of history that we can extract such valuable learning for the future.

Pinnington: What are some failures in Canada’s history?

Duguay: The relations between First Nations and non-First-Nations people. Still today First Nations people are not considered full citizens. Our society has continued in a dynamic of dominators and dominated where we consider that we have nothing to learn from First Nations people. We think we only have to help them.

Pinnington: What would you say then to someone who wants to help others?

Duguay: There is nobody who helps anybody else. Each of us has something to learn or share with others, regardless of our social position. We cannot build the Canada of the future without all Canadians. Creating a truly inclusive dialogue means all of us positioning ourselves as learners, rather than as masters downloading our knowledge to others.

 – This was originally published on Possible Canadas.