Six Degrees Calgary wants your radical ideas about inclusion and diversity

A group of distinguished thinkers are gathering Tuesday at Telus Spark to talk about ways to promote inclusivity and diversity.

'Racism is back in a big way'

Leroy Little Bear, Adrienne Clarkson, Anila Lee Yuen, and John Ralston-Saul are all a part of Six Degrees Calgary, a program organized by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship that is travelling around the world in search of radical ideas to help promote inclusivity and diversity. (Ellis Choe/CBC News)

A global forum with a very southern Alberta flavour hopes to ignite a circle of radical ideas about inclusiveness and diversity.

Six Degrees Calgary: Towards Resilience, a new global forum created by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, is travelling across Canada to talk about how to fight back against a rising tide of nativism that's sweeping over large swaths of the planet.

A trio of guests — novelist and journalist John Ralston-Saul, Indigenous elder Leroy Little Bear — who is a Distinguished Niitsitapi Scholar with the University of Lethbridge — and Calgary Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Lee Yuen joined Doug Dirks on The Homestretch to talk about some of the ways communities can benefit from, and promote inclusivity and diversity.

'Increasingly poisoned atmosphere'

One of the reasons Six Degrees was born, said Ralston-Saul, was that the current mood of the planet is at such a dangerous place.

"You have an increasingly poisoned atmosphere around the world. Racism is back in a big way. Really ugly forms of nationalism are back. There are enormous problems south of the border," he said. "There are enormous problems in Europe, and in Asia."

While he conceded Canada has its share of problems too, he said there are also substantial differences between Canada and other places.

"The atmosphere here is not driven by fear, which it is elsewhere," he said. "And a large part of the idea of Six Degrees is to develop a conversation, an international and national language which isn't driven by fear of the other."

Host Doug Dirks speaks to author John Ralston-Saul, Calgary Centre for Newcomers CEO Alina Lee Yuen, and Leroy Little Bear about Six Degrees Calgary, a new event promoting inclusiveness and diversity. (Ellis Choe/CBC News)

'Your immigrant story'

Eroding that fear of the other is a large part of the Calgary Centre for Newcomer's two-pronged strategy, said Yeun.

"If you know somebody then you're less likely to have those extreme kinds of views," Yeun said. "Because once you get to know a person as somebody like yourself, that always helps. So we always try to have interactive conversations, different things we can do — and events."

The second part involves family trees.

"Unless you're an Indigenous person, everyone is an immigrant who came here from somewhere else," Yuen said. "So I like to start a lot of conversations I have, with many different groups and in different settings, by asking, tell me about your immigrant story. Tell me about your family? Where did they originally come from?

"And when you do that, you create that awareness and understanding," she said. "It might have been 200 years or 50 years ago, but some of those struggles and some of those hopes are still the same as right now."

Proud of colleges

For Little Bear, some of the most encouraging steps toward inclusiveness and diversity have been taken by Alberta educational institutions.

"I'm really proud of our colleges and universities for taking on the challenge, they're doing something about it. They're doing different courses. They're making students much more aware," Little Bear said.

"But out on the street here in Calgary, we still see the same old story," he added.

The solution? A whole new way of thinking, said Little Bear.

"We need to examine our very foundational basis of thinking processes. Our metaphysics. As long as we continue to use those metaphysics, we're going to continue to have the same thought processes and the same kind of distinctions and categorizations being made," he said.

"And what we've been telling audiences is hey, maybe those metaphysics, maybe those foundational basis of our thinking processes are just a little bit out of date, just like my iPhone 4. They tell me it's out of date. Its obsolete.

"We need to do some reflection and examine those foundational basis of our thinking processes."

Calgary event

The Six Degrees event in Calgary — which takes place Tuesday at Telus Spark — features journalist Chris Turner, former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, Mayor Naheed Nenshi, national Inuit leader Natan Obed, Calgary Sexual Health CEO Pam Krause, London journalist Abdul-Rehman Malik and award-winning novelist and writer Sharon Butala, along with the trio of guests who appeared on The Homestretch.

While changing your way of thinking might be a challenge, Ralston-Saul said the Six Degrees event is taking its cue from Indigenous ways of thinking to get things started.

"There's a non-linear, a spatial, a different way of including people in indigenous philosophy which I think is kind of post-modern today — and makes some of the European ideas look very, very out of date," he said. " So tomorrow, it will be 250 people in circles, with people who are on stage. It's a tiny little stage with a circle in the middle.

"And it changes the nature of the conversation right away."

Six Degrees Calgary will also be broadcast on Facebook Live.

With files from The Homestretch


Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: