Dialogue is conversation between two or more people aimed at developing a common understanding.
The main alternative to dialogue is rhetoric. A rhetorical approach has people committed to their position trying to convince others that they are right.
There are many advantages to dialogue. Because it involves conversation, it tends to build knowledge, sympathy and understanding between people. Because it is not a polarized approach, it has the potential to discover new and richer alternatives to entrenched positions. Because it is not adversarial, it encourages the development of a relationship between those involved.
For hundreds of years, Anglo-American culture, especially the law and politics, has tended to favour rhetoric over dialogue. This has resulted in, among other things, ideologically driven party-based political systems and a court system premised on confrontation and winner-take-all.
But there is a deeper tradition that meanders back through European cultural history to the ancient Greeks and Socrates in particular. This dialectic tradition emphasizes the pursuit of understanding over the goal of imposing one’s viewpoint on another.
We understand from what our Indigenous friends and clients tell us that there is also a strong tradition of the dialectic in many Indigenous cultures. We see this, for instance, in the practices of the feasthall and the preference for consensus.
So how is this relevant to us as Indigenous people and settlers in Canada today?
Simply put, we believe that if we want to live in a post-colonial Canada, we must all change how we interact from the rhetorical to the dialectic. This is because rhetoric is one of the most powerful tools of colonialism.
Rhetoric is used to establish and maintain a power structure that justifies the marginalization of the minority culture and continuously confirms the world view of the dominant culture. Worst of all, it discredits the dialectic, forcing the minority culture to attempt to oppose its marginalization through the very tool being used against it. This reinforces the legitimacy of the rhetorical approach and so the power of the dominant culture.
In Canada, we have seen this self-reinforcing system played out in legislatures and courtrooms for over 100 years. Indigenous cultures fighting for their very existence in political and legal structures inherently intent on their continued marginalization, if not eradication.
Yes, there have been some wins. But how many, at what cost and over how many years?
The single most significant result of this history of conflict has been the continued widening in the gap of understanding between settlers and Indigenous peoples. Rhetoric polarizes. Polarization increases misunderstanding. Misunderstanding creates suspicion. Suspicion leads to conflict. Conflict is managed through rhetorical engagements. The system is self-reinforcing.
How do we break this vicious circle? How do we create a post-colonial Canada in which we can all learn to live together with respect and understanding?
We firmly believe that the only escape is for settlers and Indigenous peoples to reach back into their respective cultural pasts and come together in dialogue.
We are both captives of the colonial paradigm that has defined our interactions for hundreds of years. But we just may have an opportunity at this point in time to switch to the dialectic and start to build a relationship that will move us into and support us in a post-colonial Canada.
How this all plays out, we don’t know. But, as settlers committed to helping First Nations find their way to self-determination, we do know we want to be part of it.
This website, that is both about dialogue and a dialogue itself, is our attempt to help create a Canada in which settlers and Indigenous peoples understand and respect each other, but most of all, where they are in constant dialogue.
Please explore our issues commentary and join the dialogue by leaving a comment at the bottom of any of the articles. You can choose to be notified by email whenever additional dialogue is added to the site.