Reflections on the PJSA Conference

After a weekend of relaxing while the weather got colder outside my window, I figured it was about time to write out my reflections on the recent PJSA Conference held at WLU. What an amazing collection of inspiring talks and workshops– props to the PJSA conference organizers who clearly experienced a labor of love in putting it together.

pjsaPJSA stands for the Peace and Justice Studies Association, a North-American based non-profit that brings together thinkers, researchers, educators, etc. around the subject of Peace and Justice. Each year they hold a conference and this year, the WLU global studies department along with University of Waterloo’s Congrad Grebal University College and the University of Waterloo’s Peace and Conflict Studies program. In addition to the main conference, students gathered to learn from experts and from each other within a complimentary student conference. I participated in general conference plenary sessions as well as the student conference plenary and breakout sessions and I’d love to share with you some of the highlights.

idle no more

Sylvia McAdam, in blue, along with other Idle No More founders Sheelah McLean, Nina Wilson, and Jessica Gordon.

The morning began with music from the Aboriginal Students’ Centre’s drumming and singing group, filling the Maureen Forrester Hall with hope and setting the tone for the day. Sylvia McAdam, co-founder of the Idle No More movement, addressed the auditorium in the first plenary, emphasizing that Canada’s Aboriginal people don’t need the help of non-Aboriginal allies, but rather need our support. I decided to attend the student conference mainly because of the focus it placed on conflict within our own country, Canada. The day before the conference, the RCMP launched their highly militarized offensive against peaceful anti-shale protestors near Rexton, NB and this became a rallying point for many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal groups across the country. These events were discussed within the context of broader discussion on treaty rights and Canada’s continued attack on Aboriginal communities and the environment via bills such as Bill C-45. For more information about this, I recommend check out Dr. Pamela Palmater:

stop harper

Brigette with her sign, being escorted out of parliament in 2011.

Next, I moved into a student conference plenary where Brigette DePape addressed students on the importance of social movements and youth involvement in social activism. If you aren’t sure who Brigette is, you may remember her for her infamous ‘stop Harper’ protest during Harper’s speech to the throne in 2011,as a former page in the Canadian parliament. Never have I heard a young women address an audience with such passion, yet so cooly– I sat through her talk nodding and thinking about how I wished I could be her best friend. That morning I had the chance to read her article about the most recent speech to the throne and I highly recommend you check it out here. Having participated in various direct actions in the past, the thing I appreciated most about Brigette’s talk was her real-life advice about how she prepared for direct action. She spoke with a lawyer before her protest and was fully aware of the short-term consequences and possible long-term ramifications of her action ahead of time. This, I believe, is a thoughtful and encouraging approach to social activism for our generation.

In the afternoon I had the great pleasure of attending a plenary wit


h renowned medical doctor, author, academic,  and social activist Dr. James Orbinski. To say he blew my mind would be an understatement. His simple message was that for all social advocates and humanitarians, the process of ‘speak-listen-think-act’ is essential in ensuring we engage in social change in sustainable ways. His philosophical perspectives and reflections on his work were really inspiring, and definitely left me reeling– I can only hope to be as thoughtfully reflective on my own work as he is on his.

I ended the day by attending the student conference breakout session with the Aboriginal Students’ Centre. Melissa Ireland led our small group in a circle sharing reflection of our experiences that day. Students had come from all across Canad and the U.S. for this conference, so hearing their perspectives was really inspiring– to see how much they cared about peace and justice helped me believe our generation is capable of so much good work. The overwhelming sentiment expressed in the circle was one of gratitude and that, is ultimately what I left feeling. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend the conference and hope my little reflections encourage you to take part is these kinds of events in the future!

Also, in support of the Elispogtog First Nations community targeted by RCMP, Bill and I participated in a rally in Waterloo Town Square that night— and it resulted in this wonderful experience:



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