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  • Dr. Nicholas Terpstra

From Initial Sparks to Launching

Updated: Jan 14, 2022

By Dr. Nicholas Terpstra

Dr. Nicholas Terpstra is a Professor of History at the University of Toronto and was the Emilio Goggio Chair of Italian Studies and the Director of Frank Iacobucci Centre for Italian-Canadian Studies, from 2019-2021. His work deals with the intersection of religion, politics, and charity in Renaissance and early modern Italy, with a focus on the institutional forms of civil society. Through this focus, much of his work attends to people on the margins or the underside of society (orphans, abandoned children, widows, criminals, exiles, etc.), looking both at how they negotiated their situations in urban society, and how those urban societies aimed to deal with them.

The platform takes the Indigenous-Italian-Canadian Connections project to a new level. It allows these very connections to multiply, feed each other, and grow. We hope that they will grow in ways we couldn’t even imagine when we began this project in the depths of the COVID pandemic when all connections of any kind were seriously challenged. The fact that the project has continued to expand and flourish is the best sign possible of the imagination, energy and commitment of those who have dedicated themselves to building it as a collaboration among many groups and individuals.

The first steps came out of a desire on the part of the University of Toronto to recognize and advance the work of Frank Iacobucci on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Centre founded in his name in the Italian Studies Department. Born into an Italian immigrant family in British Columbia and following a career in law that led to appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, Frank Iacobucci has long been committed to serving the many communities that make up Canada. One of these was the community of the university itself, where Iacobucci has served as professor, Dean of Law, Provost, and Interim President. The other was the many communities of those who’ve sought recognition and justice in Canada, including First Nations, marginalized peoples, and people in crisis. These might seem like quite distinct communities enjoying quite distinct positions and privileges. Yet Iacobucci’s commitment to community, civil society, justice, and dialogue over the years bridges the gaps between them and makes the Connections project a natural for the Centre that bears his name.

Iacobucci’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation has gone beyond the Commission of that name and extended to leading inquiries on residential schools and on Indigenous presence on juries, and more recently to conducting negotiations and consultations with Indigenous Nations on major pipeline and mining projects. He’s argued that justice begins with breaking the paternalist relations of colonialism and establishing dialogue between First Nations and federal and provincial authorities on a government-to-government basis. The conversations around Reconciliation have moved rapidly and have drawn in ever widening circles of voices, speaking out of deeper experiences, and driven by greater hopes than we recognized when the TRC first opened opportunities for dialogue. As the conversation has continued, we’ve become more sensitive to the dynamics of voice and privilege and more aware that those who’ve spoken in the past should now listen to voices once silenced. There’s a diversity in those voices that can emerge and teach us much about community, civil society, justice, and dialogue in the future.

One strand within that diversity is the experience of those whose roots are Indigenous, Italian, and Canadian. The Iacobucci Centre is a natural place for those connections to be shared, explored, and celebrated. Over the past year, Paolo Frascà of the Department of Italian Studies and Angela Nardozi of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education collaborated with Indigenous leaders and with a widening circle of those who share Indigenous and Italian parentage in order to understand how those connections and conversations might built understanding and work towards truth, reconciliation, and justice. It was appropriate that this could take place in the 25th anniversary year of the Iacobucci Centre, with funds from the University of Toronto and Department of Italian Studies and with hopes of sparking further research, discovery, and meetings together. And the sparks are flying – from an on-line workshop last year, to this web platform now, to further lectures and conferences in the year and years ahead, the opportunities to grow Indigenous-Italian-Canadian Connections are multiplying rapidly. What direction they take, and where they take us all, is hard to predict. There’s excitement in a horizon that continues to extend ever further, and to being part of effort to use new tools to address old injustices and to seek Truth and Reconciliation in community together. We hope that you find this platform to be a vantage point from which to make new connections, launch new conversations, and see over that horizon.


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