Canada’s National Library as Cultural Commons

Based on her presentation celebrating the re-opening of the LAC to the public

By Heather Menzies

Peter Schneider, Heather Menzies

Peter Schneider, Manager of the Public Lending Right Program and Executive Secretary to the Public Lending Right Commission (The Canada Council), and Heather Menzies chat at the re-opening of the Library and Archives Canada. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada.

It might be rude when celebrating the Library and Archives of Canada being re-opened as a public cultural space to ask why this matters. But it still might be appropriate, considering how many people get their culture so much more conveniently now at home. It might also be timely to consider what public cultural spaces mean – by remembering and even re-envisioning them as a continuity of historical commons.

As I learned when exploring my roots in the Scottish Highlands, the word common, deriving from two Latin words, means ‘together as one.’ For my ancestors, it meant people coming together in mutual self-interest in shared habitat. It involved working out relations with the land for the common good, which at root meant mutual sustainability: the sustainability of habitat and inhabitants both.

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Video: Living the Limits to Growth with Heather Menzies

On March 9, 2016, Heather Menzies spoke to the Canadian Association of Clubs of Rome in Ottawa, Canada, where she spoke on the theme “Living the Limits to Growth.” Have a listen and let us know what you think in the comments.

So sorry to miss it in person! It is excellent!! Inspiring. Just plain wonderful.

Susan Tanner, former Executive Director, Canadian Environmental Network

Reclaiming the Commons wins the Ottawa Book Award

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Heather Menzies received the honour of the Ottawa Book Award for Non-Fiction on Wednesday, October 21, 2015.

 

Here is what the jurors said:

Jury Statement:

“In this eloquent memoir written from the heart, Menzies takes the reader on a fascinating trip to the Scotland of her ancestors to examine and retrace life on the Scottish Commons. With a light and at times poetic touch, she offers her insights into how the venerable wisdom of sharing and caring for the land might be applied today. A unique combination of memoir and manifesto, Reclaiming the Commons urges us to become participants in changing our world for the common good.”

Dr. Richard T. Clippingdale, Suzanne Evans and merilyn simonds

Read more about the city’s Book Award and Announcement.

Ottawa Citizen featured the winners, so read more.

Ancestral Relations with the Land

If we are to heal the earth, we must also heal ourselves, individually and as communities. Moreover, the two are inter-connected. It’s all about relations — relations of mutual recognition and respect and mutual support and sustainability. It’s also about the daily practices of mutuality and responsible self-governance that support these relations.

 

Menzies_tweet_AncestorsBy Heather Menzies

As memories of giving the opening keynote at an International Conference on the Commons (IASC2015) start to fade, the lasting learning for me is twofold:

  • First, that we all have ancestral relations to the land; and,
  • second, that positioning ourselves to reclaim this, at first just in our imagination as a possible shift in perspective, is a critical step in reconnecting with the earth and the urgent task of transforming our economic and political relations with it, for mutual survival.

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Doing Development Differently

I recommend that Rachel Notley bring together not a blue-ribbon commission, but one with a green ribbon and a yellow, black, red and white one to represent the equal voice that will be given to Aboriginal understandings of ‘development’.

Commons. conf. KeynotesThe election of Rachel Notley at a time when depressed oil prices have pushed the ‘pause’ button on runaway resource development in Alberta. It offers a karma-like opportunity to re-think what ‘development’ means — especially for the people who’ve grown tired of the same old ways and voted for change. These ways, once summarized by the line that “What’s good for General Motors is good for America”, have long outlived their usefulness, while delivering less and less to fewer and fewer people.

The corporate good and corporate development are no longer synonymous with the common good. It’s time to reclaim the common good and re-define ‘development’ in terms that are answerable to it.

On May 26, I’ll be giving the opening keynote address to an international conference on the Commons in Edmonton, and have titled my talk: “Righting Relations with the Land and the Global Economy: Lessons from our Ancestors on the Commons.” Moreover, I will be paired with Grand Chief Steve Courtoreille, who will speak of how his ancestors related to the land in what is now Treaty 8 Territory in Alberta.

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