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Peace conference returning to Grand Forks

A journalist and health care advocate who spent 14 months with the US Army as a conscientious objector medic in Vietnam will be among the keynote speakers at a peace conference this month in Grand Forks.

David Langness will address the gathering entitled “On the Path to Peace: My Piece of Peace,” to be held at the USCC’s community centre on Saturday, April 29. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is free with a borsch and bannock lunch provided but you need to register in advance.

The conference builds on a successful event held at the same time and place last year. It’s a collaboration between the Baha’í, Doukhobor, and Indigenous communities in Grand Forks and the Rotary Club and high school Global Citizenship Club.

Co-organizer Linda Wilkinson said they weren’t initially planning another conference but wanted to invite Langness, who lives in northern California, to speak at a peace cafe event at the library via Zoom. Then they wondered if he might attend in person.

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“When we asked if he was willing to come to Grand Forks if we picked him up in Spokane, he said of course,” Wilkinson said. “He grew up in Moses Lake. From that initial moment we thought we could do it all over again: we could have another peace conference and this time with a table of collaborators.”

Wilkinson said she was struck by the first article she read by Langness, titled “War Crimes – and War as a Crime,” which discussed his experience in Vietnam.

He has also been involved in relief missions to countries gripped by war and revolution, including the Philippines after the People’s Power revolution of 1986, El Salvador during its civil war, and Kosovo and Albania during the NATO bombing in the Balkans.

In El Salvador, Langness worked alongside Jody Williams, who received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on banning land mines.

Langness will speak in Grand Forks on “How You Can Make World Peace a Reality.”

The second keynote speaker, representing Rotary, is Maria Kliavkoff, who will offer a presentation called “Healthy Conversations in Difficult Times.” That will be followed by paired conversations using the tools Kliavkoff will share.

The day will begin with a land acknowledgement, a welcome from USCC executive director J.J. Verigin, a drum welcome, an Indigenous blessing, Doukhobor prayer, and a Baha’í prayer.

A teacher involved with the Global Citizenship Club will recount events since last year’s conference and there will be performances by a Doukhobor choir, the Grand Forks choral society, and Boundary Heartbeat Drummers.

Others involved include Rocio Graham, a Mexican-Canadian artist who lives at Christina Lake, and Okanagan harpist Carolyn Mackay.

Registration forms are available from the library, Gallery 2, the USCC office, and Dave Dale insurance. Last year’s conference drew about 85 people and so far about 70 have signed up for this year, but organizers hope to top 100.

Wilkinson said the event has been very collaborative between the various groups.

“We hope this grows, that next year there will be even more collaboration,” she said. “We want Grand Forks to be known as a place where peaceful things happen.”

As a prelude to the event, the Global Citizenship Club, under the Rotary Club’s sponsorship will dedicate a peace pole on the high school grounds on April 27.

Co-organizer Maxine Ruzicka of Rotary noted they became a peacebuilder club last year.

“Peace is one of the top three goals of Rotary International,” she said. “Rotary believes peace belongs in the hearts and minds of each individual through awareness, goodwill and rejection of discord. We can stimulate a shift in attitudes within both our local and global community.

“This year’s topic really speaks to where it starts. Yes, what we need to work towards is global but we need to have that within ourselves.

“Peace begins at home and in each community and it transcends a simplistic view of an absence of war. It encompasses all those measures that improve human relations with positive and harmonious outcomes.”

Ruzicka said they now plan to hold the conference annually and can explore some of those topics in detail in subsequent years.

Several other initiatives grew out of last year’s inaugural conference, she said, and organizations supported each other’s events, such as the Rotary 25-year peace time capsule, a Boundary Peace Initiative panel discussion on racism, and activities marking Truth and Reconciliation Day.

“Every time one of these things happen all of us try to attend and support one another, which is something we didn’t really do before last year’s conference,” Ruzicka said.

“We see so much more strength, meaning and things that deepen the shift that needs to happen in our words and our actions within our communities.”

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