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[The third in a six part series of posts from SSU students participating in a First Nations Learning Tour, hosted by Mennonite Central Committee. The group is travelling in Ottawa & Timmins, Ontario from April 26th – May 8th, 2016.]

We met with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) on Friday, April 29th, 2016. We were scheduled to meet with Jon Thompson, the Director of Health & Social Development, but were also given the pleasure of dialoguing with one of his associates William David. William David was “the mining guy”, being heavily involved in mining policy at the AFN. He was an extremely articulate gentleman with an incredible breadth of both educational as well as hands-on experience.

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We talked about many things including the AFN’s relationship with the Hill, how change is made in policy and government, First Nations people’s right to self-determination and how to engage non-aboriginal people in conversations about First Nation’s issues. However, by far, what has most securely captured my attention are William’s words concerning people and the terrible things they do.

It is so easy to demonize those that commit human rights violations. Their actions are often so shocking that they quickly become an all encompassing label, excluding the possibility that the subject in question was anything but an atrocious human being. However, William had a unique perspective that helped to frame human rights perpetrators in a much more forgiving and human light. While not removing the responsibility of any given person for their actions, Will added a specific qualifier, which also served as a challenge for those who wished to be a force of positive change in the world. He said that people, as in, anybody, can do the most dangerous things when they are uncritical of what they are doing and the systems that they serve.

It can be easy to do something terrible unintentionally, especially if a person is not critical about what they are doing or what they are supporting. Sometimes, the tendency is to imagine that those who have committed the worst human rights violations were terrible from the start, perverted by nature and only committed these specific crimes after hours of prolonged thought about how to make the world a worse place than it was before. However, Will’s perspective allows for a much more nuanced approach. Anybody has the potential to do terrible things. Everyone is capable of great evil, but they are also capable of great good.

In this case, the worst actions are conceived when people to not take the time to think about what they are doing or who they are supporting. People must learn to take the time to reflect on their lives, especially on how their actions might affect others. Rarely do our choices only affect ourselves, more often, they have a wide reaching impact on both those dear to us but also on those unknown to us. The world is an interconnected web of relationships and systems, therefore, it is imperative that we examine both our relationships as well as the strings that run between the various systems of which we are apart. No man is an island; everyone belongs to the system of the world and each of us is responsible to our neighbor at home and abroad.

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