As Jonathan Dewar began his path through university his thoughts turned to his ancestry and how to connect or reconnect with his family’s culture and community. Living in Ottawa at the time, he found it easy to learn about his French-Canadian and Scottish grandparents, but not so for his Huron-Wendat lineage. He didn’t know where to begin, so he turned to books. His passion turned into an MA in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor, where he specialized in Aboriginal literatures and drama. He’s also now completing a doctorate in Canadian Studies at Carleton University where his research explores the role of art and artist in truth, healing, and reconciliation with regard to Residential Schools and the broader Canadian context.
Once into the work world, Dewar served as Director of Research at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation (AHF) from 2007 to 2012 and is a past director of the Métis Centre at the National Aboriginal Health Organization. He has several years of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis-specific policy and research experience and also worked with the Office of the Languages Commissioner of Nunavut and the Inter-governmental Affairs and Inuit Relations unit within Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. In June 2012, Algoma University appointed Dewar as the Director of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and Special Advisor to the President for the Residential School Legacy.
“I got into this work to honour my maternal grandmother and the heritage I inherit from her.” said Dewar, “And then several years ago an Elder reminded me I had four grandparents and I should honour each of them. I really feel like this work, and especially the focus on reconciliation, is a part of that.”
In his role as the Director of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre (SRSC) Dewar hopes to build upon the work already done by the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the National Residential Schools Survivors Society. They founded the Shingwauk Project in 1979 and the Residential School Research, Archive and Visitor’s Centre in 2005. “The collection is amazing – and still growing – and the relationships with partners is inspiring,” commented Dewar.
He plans to continue the over three decades of their work, to: research, collect, preserve and display the history of Residential Schools across Canada; develop and deliver projects of “sharing, healing and learning”; and accomplish “the true realization of Chief Shingwauk’s Vision”.
The goals, as he sees them, are pretty straightforward: “What’s important is acquiring a space on campus that allows us to better serve all of our objectives including a safe and inviting space for Survivors; assuming a position of significance within the national network of sites and parties dedicated to addressing the legacy of Residential Schools and related issues; assisting Survivors and their families and communities; and educating Canada and the world about the history and living legacy.”
In context with the above, Dewar is hoping to develop museum and gallery programming, and continue to speak and lecture across the country. Having taught at the UBC Okanagan Summer Institute for Interdisciplinary Indigenous Graduate Studies, he would also like to see a Summer Institute developed at Algoma U to build on the strengths of the Centre and its partners.
“While the spotlight on the legacy of Residential Schools is brighter than ever and that’s attributable to the courage of Survivors and their families, communities, friends and allies; there’s still a lot of work to do,” said Dewar. “The two biggest challenges we face are that of funding, and convincing people that this issue is a contemporary Canadian issue. There is apathy, misconception, and even willful ignorance. We have to change that.”
Passionate about his life’s work, Dewar has happily relocated to the North. He lives in Bruce Mines with his wife, two daughters, and three dogs, on a Great Lake aptly named after his ancestors.
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