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Nadia Duguay

In this six-part series of interviews, Canadians with a variety of experiences discuss the major challenges our country is facing and how best to address them. This instalment deals with making pluralism work.

Nadia Duguay, co-founder of Exeko, a Montreal-based charity to help marginalized people through innovation in culture and education, was interviewed on Nov. 12 by Elizabeth Pinnington, a consultant with Reos Partners.

Pinnington: What do you find hopeful about what is happening in Canada?

Duguay: Our current reality in Canada is not that encouraging. However, the level of citizen awareness about social challenges seems to be increasing, about issues such as inequality, discrimination, the role culture plays in society and the environment. I find this hopeful on a daily basis.

Pinnington: When you look at the situation in Canada, what worries you?

Duguay: It's discouraging to see how far-reaching disinformation is in this country. Many Canadians think it is unjustified to continue talking about rights, as many people think everyone's rights are already respected. The reality is that if you are born First Nations in this country, in addition to the housing challenges you will face – for example 68 per cent of Inuit living in Nunavik live in overpopulated homes – 53 per cent among you will live in homes that don't respect the minimum building standard. You will be eight times more likely to be homeless in your lifetime, and 10 times more likely to go to prison. In 50 per cent of cases, you will have a longer sentence than other Canadians for the same crime. Serious questions arise from this.

Pinnington: If things go well in the next 20 years, what will have happened?

Duguay: We will be able to imagine citizens, politicians and organizations in society that listen to one another, exchange with one another and recognize each other as complementary actors who have the capacity to collaborate and create real solutions. All too often we attack each other about our problems, but we forget that others are also probably thinking carefully about initiatives before proposing them. We need to increase our capacity to be open to sharing knowledge and experiences, and to look at the "other" as someone who could nourish our way of thinking. If everything goes well in 20 years, we will have understood that solutions will not be brought by organizations, researchers or politics, but from society itself – through the capacity of individuals to recognize each other.

Pinnington: What are some important lessons from Canada's history?

Duguay: I think that residential schools are a very important notion from our history that often get silenced or minimized. Our society needs to look this terrifying period of our history in the face, in order to learn from it and build a better understanding of our current issues. While Canada has not had great wars in our territory, we perpetrated a great cultural violence. It's important to note that many involved in the residential schools had good intentions; they wanted to do good and to help. It is here that we have much to learn, about the importance of cultural identity, and also about the fact that we shouldn't help people just because we want to. It's only through a careful reading of history that we can extract such valuable learning for the future.

Pinnington: What would you say then to someone who wants to help others?

Duguay: Each of us has something to learn or share with others, regardless of our social position. We cannot build the Canada of the future without all Canadians. Creating a truly inclusive dialogue means all of us positioning ourselves as learners, rather than as masters downloading our knowledge to others.

Possible Canadas is a project created by Reos Partners, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and a diverse coalition of philanthropic and community organizations. To see longer versions of these interviews, or to join the conversation, visit