Lloyd Axworthy: What politics can learn from Indigenous thinking

Year 1 No. 31 — Friday, November 11, 2017

Former minister of foreign affairs Lloyd Axworthy raised the advantages of using a circle for meetings during his Nov. 7 talk at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

“If we were really wanting to be true to our spirit, we should be actually in a circle,” Axworthy says, noting he was adopted into the “Anishinabe clan” as a pipe carrier about four or five years ago. “It is much better if you are in a circle than if you are standing face to face. I know Justin Trudeau wants to reform the way we do things in Parliament — I think as a start we should take out the seats that place you at two-and-a-half swords length and just make one big circle in the House of Commons. What is fascinating about it is that the circle is a circle of inclusiveness, that everybody has a voice.”

Axworthy, past president of the University of Winnipeg, says the talking stick is an important part of the circle.

“Once you take the (talking) stick, you are required to speak the truth,” Axworthy says. “You can imagine what that does to somebody who has been in politics for 27 years.”

David Zimmer, minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, says Axworthy’s circular layout for Parliament is an “interesting concept.”

“In Parliament and the Legislature, the parties sit on opposite sides and they face each other or oppose each other,” Zimmer says. “In fact at the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, our principal boardroom now has been changed from a long table to a circular table. When you sit in a circle, there is no head of the table, as it were, everybody is an equal. And frankly I have found over the years at various meetings I have gone to, looking back on it now, I think I can say that some of the most productive meetings were conducted sitting around a round table.”

Peggy Smith, Lakehead University’s interim vice provost of Aboriginal Initiatives, pointed to the significance of Axworthy’s comments.

“It’s important that we see that some of our political leaders are actually learning some things from Indigenous communities and incorporating them into their way of thinking,” Smith says. “He acknowledged some of the discussion that has gone on about Canada being what it is because of the contributions of Indigenous peoples, like John Ralston Saul talked about in A Fair Country.”

Saugeen Nation’s Virginia Necan says Axworthy’s talk was “interesting.”

“He made an interesting point about the Boreal forest and the Amazon, that they clean the air of the carbon (dioxide),” Necan says. “Meanwhile the forest industry is cutting down the forests at a rapid rate.”

Brent Kelso, an independent economic development consultant, also appreciated Axworthy’s comments.

“I think Lloyd hit it on the head that this is a time for us to really explore the dynamics of how we should be tackling today’s issues with the instruments we have internationally and how we can apply those here in the country,” Kelso says.

Axworthy spoke about Canadian Lessons from International Judicial Forums: Reflections on the International Criminal Court, Responsibility to Protect, and the UN’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples during his talk at Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law. His talk was made possible by the Harold G. Fox Education Fund.

“He provided a really thought provoking and motivational talk about how Canada has been involved in the rule of law, how there’s more work to be done and how our law students need to think about protecting humanity,” says Angelique EagleWoman, dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law.