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Smyth Dialogues

The Smyth Dialogues is a signature public event series made possible through bequests from the late Wanita Smyth and Delmar Smyth. Del Smyth was a York political scientist and life-long scholar remembered for his great mind and generous spirit. He served in many leadership roles at York, including as founding dean of York University’s Atkinson Faculty when it was created in 1963. The Atkinson Faculty merged with the Faculty of Arts in 2009 to create the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LA&PS), which is the home of the Dialogues today.

The Smyth Dialogues reflect the desire expressed by Wanita Smyth and Del Smyth to profile ideas and solutions that would promote peace, justice and human security, and prevent violence. The full name of the event is “The Del & Wanita Smyth Lecture on Peace, Justice and Human Security”. The Dialogues are a fitting tribute to the lives and memories of two outstanding individuals, Wanita and Delmar Smyth.

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Reflections on Off-Reserve Indigenous Life

Date: Wednesday, April 24, 2024

For the third Del & Wanita Smyth Lecture on Peace, Justice and Human Security, we brought together three prominent Indigenous leaders, Christa Big Canoe, Jennifer LaFontaine, and Sylvia Maracle who engaged in a lively conversation on the theme: “Reflections on Off-Reserve Indigenous Life”. The panel shared their lived experiences and discussed their work supporting Indigenous people in Canada who live their lives mostly or entirely off-reserve. 

Panelist Bios

Christa Big Canoe profile photo

Christa Big Canoe

Christa Big Canoe, is an Anishinabek woman, mother and lawyer. She is from Georgina Island First Nation. She has been a D/Clerk of the court and an administrative Justice of the Peace in and for the Northwest Territories. Christa was policy counsel and lead for Legal Aid Ontario’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy prior to becoming Aboriginal Legal Services (ALS) Legal Director in 2011.

She took a 2.5-year leave of absence to be senior and then Lead Commission Counsel to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Christa has been before all levels of court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. She represents families at Inquest proceedings, including six of the seven fallen feather families. She has also been before various tribunals and standing committees providing Indigenous perspective and representation.

She was named a change maker in Canadian Lawyer’s top 25 Most Influential in the justice system in 2017. In 2021, Christa was the first recipient of Alnoba’s Moment of Truth Award and she was one of the Spirit of Barbra Schlifer Award recipients. Dalhousie's Faculty of Management presented her with the 2022 Scotiabank Ethical Leadership Award. Christa passionately advocates for Indigenous women and children in multiple forums and legal processes.

Jennifer LaFontaine profile photo

Jennifer LaFontaine

Jennifer LaFontaine is Ukrainian and Métis from Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. For the last two years she has worked in the Indigenous Affairs office and is currently the manager of placekeeping. In this role, she works to increase the visible landscape of Indigenous people in the city including the street names, public art, murals, storefronts and restaurants, and land for Indigenous community to gather for ceremony and culture.

Sylvia Maracle profile photo

Sylvia Maracle

Sylvia Maracle is a Mohawk from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territories, Wolf Clan. She came to Toronto to attend post secondary. In her professional life, she has been involved in Urban indigenous development, Indigenous Women’s rights, developing various government initiatives such as ending violence against Indigenous Women PhD and the 2SLGBTQQIA, education, post secondary, healing and wellness and the recovery of traditional ways. 

She has received PhD from Guelph, York, Trent, and Queens University.   Sylvia is an Officer of the Order of Canada, has been gifted with a Persons Award and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. She continues to be involved in various national, provincial, and local Indigenous initiatives. Sylvia has been recognized as a traditional knowledge keeper and has been able to shift mainstream approaches so that Indigenous approaches are acknowledged and utilized in ongoing reconciliation processes. 

Past Events

Date: November 1, 2022

How do we understand refuge and create it for ourselves and communities? Join us for the 2022 Smyth Dialogues with award-winning authors Billy-Ray Belcourt and David Chariandy as they discuss refuge, safety, and our connections and disconnections with family, community and culture.

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Inaugural Del & Wanita Smyth Lecture in Peace, Justice and Human Security

Date: February 5, 2021

As we take action against anti-Black racism as a Faculty, this dialogue series offers a space for community building, knowledge sharing and mobilization. We started this series off with a multi-national pespective and brought together Keguro Macharia, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson and Rinaldo Walcott to consider the possibilities and limits of Black Freedom.

These influential scholars and thinkers from Canada, the United States and Kenya discussed the ideas in their books: Frottage: Frictions of Intimacy across the Black Diaspora (NYU Press, 2019), Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World (NYU Press, 2020) and The Long Emancipation: Moving Toward Black Freedom (Duke University Press 2021).

Watch the Video