The largest North American gathering of people interested in furthering the causes of peace, justice and non-violence will be held in Nelson this fall as the Mir Centre for Peace hosts the International Peace & Justice Studies Association Conference.
The conference, held from September 22 to 24, aims to explore the theme “Obstructing the Old or Constructing the New? Embracing the Tension to Build the World We Want” as society works toward change for the better, says organizer and Selkirk College Peace Studies instructor Randy Janzen.
The Selkirk College Mir Centre for Peace will host the International Peace & Justice Studies Association Conference in Nelson from September 22 to 24. More than 300 people are expected to take in the conference, including high profile speakers Wab Kinew and Sandra Moran.
“There’s the dynamic we find in that,” says Janzen, also Mir Centre for Peace chair. “Do we work outside the system and be the activist on the street pounding with signs and having sit in? Or do we join boards and get elected to governing bodies and work from within?”
Speakers Bring Important Perspectives
Wab Kinew and Sandra Moran are the event’s high-profile keynote speakers who both embody this theme. Opening the event, Kinew is a Canadian Indigenous leader, hip hop artist, broadcaster and politician. Raised on the Onigaming First Nation in northwestern Ontario and in south Winnipeg, his father Tobasonakwut Kinew is a well-known activist and residential school survivor.
Wab Kinew has been open about his self-destructive lifestyle early in adulthood, something he’s overcome as he and his father come to terms with reconciliation. Recently, he was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba in a hotly contested riding.
“Wab went from being someone on the outside, a protester, to someone who is now working on the inside,” Janzen says.
Wab Kinew will speak at the conference. Kinew is a Canadian Indigenous leader, hip hop artist, broadcaster and politician.
Moran will bring the event to a close on Sunday. From Guatemala, she was a grass-roots activist on Indigenous, women and LGBTQ issues who left her country fearing for her safety.
“She was so much on the outside she actually had to flee because her life was being threatened by the powers that be,” says Janzen. “That was 20 years ago. Just last fall, she was elected to the Guatemala National Congress. She’s the first openly gay member of that congress. So again, her journey has seen both sides.”
The last time, the Peace and Justice Studies Conference was held in Canada was in Waterloo, Ontario in 2013. In 2010, Janzen attended his first event when it was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba and he instantly knew it was something he wanted to host at home in Nelson. He put the wheels in motion that very moment, approaching the executive director with the idea to host in 2016.
“I thought to myself, we can do this at Selkirk College,” says Janzen. “I felt the conference was a perfect fit with what we do through our Mir Centre for Peace.”
Youth Conference Runs Parallel
Alongside the main conference, a concurrent regional Aboriginal youth and educator’s conference will be held in Castlegar – Strengthening Our Relations. The annual event offers an opportunity for local youth to tackle the issue of reconciliation through Indigenous youth leadership. On Friday, a youth delegation will share their perspective with those attending the Peace & Justice Studies Conference.
“Having the youth perspective alongside our older established outlook will enhance learning at the conference,” says Janzen.
In addition to learning the latest research in peace, justice and nonviolence through workshops, the conference includes yoga, local music, dancing, a Doukhobor dinner and peace cafes held throughout downtown Nelson.
“They say the most important things at a conference happen in the breaks between the sessions and at the social gatherings,” says Janzen. “I’ve been to many conferences and this one is much different, so inclusive. It’s one conference I go to where I always feel at home.”
The conference will involve about 300 people and is open to academics, community organizers, researchers, public school educators, activists and the general public.
“This conference isn’t just for the academics. It brings people together from a broad spectrum which is exciting,” he says. “It is very important for academia to be in touch with the community and to involve community in activism.”
There are 80 reserved seats available at a subsidized rate of $50 for West Kootenay Boundary residents wanting to attend. Registration is now open.