Aboriginal education and institutional racism the subject of two special events

March 21 is designated by the United Nations (UN) as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It is a day observed all around the world to focus attention on the problems of racism and the need to promote racial harmony.

York will mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racism on March 19. Sponsored by York’s Centre for Human Rights, the events include an afternoon panel to discuss York’s Race, Ethnicity & Indigeneity Program and an evening presentation by Sara Ahmed, professor of race & cultural studies at Goldsmiths University of London, England. Ahmed is currently the Laurie New Jersey Chair in Women’s Studies at Rutgers University. 

The first event is in the McLaughlin Junior Common Room, 019 McLaughlin College, from 12 to 2pm. It features a presentation by Elder Amos Key Jr., a Cayuga from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory. Key was a member of the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages, which recommended among many things, that Canada formally protect Aboriginal languages, develop a First Nations language strategy and support scholarship at the postsecondary level.

Currently the executive director of the First Nations Languages Department at the Woodland Cultural Centre in Brantford, Key chairs the Canadian Aboriginal Festival Powwow, the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards and is a producer at CKRZ 100.3 FM. His achievements include establishing the Gawenniyo Cayuga and Mohawk language immersion schools and private school board and the regional Sweetgrass First Nations Language Council Inc., which currently administers the Aboriginal Languages Initiative for the Ontario Region. 

Right: Elder Amos Key Jr.

Following Elder Key’s presentation, York Professors Bonita Lawrence and Mona Oikawa will then talk about the University’s Race, Ethnicity & Indigeneity Program. 

The only program of its kind in Canada, York’s Race, Ethnicity & Indigeneity Program offers a departure from the tradition of treating anti-racism, ethnic studies and indigenous studies as completely separate fields of study. It brings together established strengths in anti-racism and social justice with the growing development of indigenous studies at York. As part of this presentation, York University’s Aboriginal Education Counsellor, Randy Pitawanakwat, will also provide information about the Aboriginal Students’ Association at York and the University’s Aboriginal Education Council.

To RSVP for this event, visit the Centre for Human Rights Web site.

The second event of the day features Professor Sara Ahmed, Laurie New Jersey Chair in Women’s Studies at Rutgers University. She will deliver a presentation titled “Race, Happiness and Empire”. The talk is in the Tribute Communities Recital Hall, 112 Accolade East Building, from 7 to 9pm. Welcoming remarks will be delivered by Noël Badiou, director of York’s Centre for Human Rights; Vanessa Rosa, PhD candidate, Graduate Program in Sociology; and Professor Radhika Mongia, director of the Graduate Program in Sociology.

Right: Sara Ahmed

Ahmed works at the intersection between feminist theory, critical race studies, post-colonial theory and queer studies. Her research is concerned with how bodies and worlds take shape; and how power is secured and challenged in everyday life worlds, as well as institutional cultures. She explores the relationship between new equality regimes and institutional racism and argues that diversity and equality have become performance indicators, and that they function as “non-performatives” (they do not bring about the effects that they name). 

Her next book, The Promise of Happiness, is forthcoming with Duke University Press. Her other publications include Differences that Matter: Feminist Theory and Postmodernism (1998); Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality (2000); The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004) and Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (2006), as well as seven co-edited books and numerous journals on feminist and post-colonial themes.

A wine and cheese reception will follow the event. Ahmed’s lecture is also part of York’s celebration of its 50th anniversary. For more information on this event and other anniversary events, visit the U50 Web site.

Those interested in attending Ahmed’s lecture should RSVP to the Centre for Human Rights at 416-736-5682 or online here.

Both lectures are wheelchair accessible, will feature American Sign Language interpretation and are captioned in real time.

The UN first designated March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racism in 1966 to mark a tragic event that took place on March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa when 69 peaceful demonstrators were killed during a protest against apartheid. Canada was one of the first countries to support the UN initiative and launched its first annual campaign against racial discrimination in 1989.