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New research affiliation at the McLean Center for the Study of Culture and Values

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

I am happy to share the news that I have recently been invited to affiliate with the McLean Center for the Study of Culture and Values as a Senior Research Fellow. Located in Washington, DC, at The Catholic University of America (CUA), it is the hub of the international Council for Research on Values and Philosophy (CRVP), whose Honourary President, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, has been a key influence on the research I hope to advance in collaboration with the Center.

In March 2020, the McLean Center hosted a meeting in Washington to explore a project that I have been slowly developing over the last four years: "Our (Un)Common Ground: Authenticity, Power, Entanglement & Polarization." Aimed at understanding, finding and fostering common ground, especially where it seems most uncommon, this research project will now be anchored in part or in whole at the McLean Center. In October, I contributed a webinar on this theme for the Center's Fall Semester Colloquy series on The Meaning of Democracy: Practicing Citizenship and Understanding Pluralism in America.

This is not my first connection with the McLean Center, the CRVP, or the CUA. In 2015, I contributed a chapter (IV) on “Windigo Killings and the Clash of Cultures" to the Cultural Clash and Religion, published as part of the Council's series on Culture and Values. Expanding on some of these ideas, in 2018, I delivered the 10th Annual Regina Herzfeld Lecture for The CUA's Department of Anthropology, on the theme: “(Un)Common Ground? Explorations of the Philosophical Anthropology of the James Bay Cree."

These research contributions and initiatives, and my connection to The CUA, originate in the James Bay Cree community of Moose Factory, Ontario, in subarctic Canada, where I was born and raised. The founding members of The CUA's Department of Anthropology, John Cooper and Regina Flannery, conducted extensive fieldwork and formed close relationships with the Cree of James Bay in the 1930s. Their interviews with elders have been a critical resource for my explorations of Cree intellectual, cultural and religious/spiritual history, but I have a personal connection as well. When Regina Flannery interviewed Ellen Smallboy about her life history (which was later published), her interpreter at the time was Ruby McLeod, whom I had the privilege of meeting when she was very old and I was very young. I knew her daughter better: Nellie Faries was a long-time neighbour and friend of my family and the first woman (acting) chief of Moose Cree First Nation. I interviewed her about her life history in 2007 and had the honour of giving her eulogy at her funeral in 2008.

At the suggestion of Professor John Kromkowski, Director of the McLean Center, I am also exploring the development of a new initiative that would intersect with the (Un)Common Ground project, and would be anchored at the Center and connected with the Council for Research on Values and Philosophy. This new initiative would focus on exploring Indigenous Cultures and Values and contributing with Indigenous knowledge-keepers to the intercultural dialogue that is fostered by the McLean Center and the CRVP's global network of scholars.

This new affiliation and these initiatives coincide with other projects I am working on that aim to help bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures into deep dialogue on fundamental questions. Among other things, these projects address the challenge of decolonizing Indigenous intellectual and religious/spiritual history, and fostering intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.

I hope to have more news to share soon.

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