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Mar 21, 2002 , vol. 23, no. 6

By Stuart Colcleugh

SFU's Morris J. Wosk centre for dialogue lived up to its name March 9 as more than 150 participants joined aboriginal leader George Erasmus in a lively roundtable discussion of his keynote address at the third annual LaFontaine-Baldwin symposium the previous evening.

During his sold-out lecture to more than 800 people, the former Assembly of First Nations chief and co-chair of the 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples envisioned a renewed relationship between native and non-native Canadians.

We need to “talk people-to-people as well as nation-to-nation to overcome our differences,” said Erasmus. “The costs of conflict, in the courts and in society, are unsupportable. The costs of doing nothing escalate with each generation. We have the capacity to imagine a better future and we have the tools at hand to realize it.”

The four-hour roundtable in Asia Pacific hall featured reactions to Erasmus' speech by a number of well-known public figures, including symposium organizer and philosopher John Ralston Saul, B.C. native leader Ed John, architect and SFU co-designer Arthur Erickson, UBC women's centre director Veronica Strong-Boag, CBC chair Carole Taylor and La Presse editor Alain Dubuc.

But some of the most moving comments came from private citizens, most of whom appeared unaccustomed to such a public forum but nevertheless seemed remarkably at ease.

That's not surprising to Wosk centre programs director Ann Cowan. She says Asia Pacific hall was specifically designed to encourage a feeling of focused conversation among equals.

The hall's seating layout is circular and non-hierarchical. Its 154 leather armchairs and cherry wood desks are arranged in five concentric rings raised just enough to preserve sight lines.

This year's LaFontaine-Baldwin symposium was co-sponsored by SFU and the Dominion Institute, a non-partisan group dedicated to promoting a better understanding of Canadian history. The event is named after Louis LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, who joined forces in the 1840s to unite Upper and Lower Canada, setting the stage for Confederation in 1867.