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Peace Activism

Averting the ravages of war and creating the conditions for justice and peace have been goals of peace movements over Saskatchewan’s first century. Before 1905 peace had been at risk owing to the failure of the Dominion to address the land claims of Indians and Métis; the aftermath of the armed rebellion of 1885 and the hanging of Riel and several Indian leaders continue to challenge us to create peace through justice. Religious pacifism came along with some immigrants. In 1885 thousands of Russian Doukhobors destroyed their weapons to protest Czarist militarism, and their persecution led to emigration to the Canadian prairies. Social gospel pacifism, in search of positive neutralism in foreign affairs, also influenced the early CCF under J.S. Woodsworth.

The Cold War transformed the peace movement: Peace Council groups wanting to avert war with the Soviet Union were widespread. American McCarthyism placed peace-oriented groups under suspicion, and underground RCMP officers infiltrated and tried to weaken them. The threat of nuclear war encouraged broad-based groups: by 1959 the University of Saskatchewan had one of the largest Canadian chapters of the student Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCND). In 1964 the Student Union for Peace Action (SUPA) was formed in Regina; this group linked anti-war objectives to community organizing for fundamental change, and was a precursor to the Canadian “New Left” and the anti-Vietnam war movement.

While Premier T.C. Douglas spoke to disarmament rallies in the late 1950s, uranium was shipped from the north for NATO’s nuclear arsenal. Anti-nuclear groups such as the Inter-Church Uranium Committee (ICUC) emerged in the 1970s. In 1980 the pacifist Mennonites helped stop a uranium refinery at Warman. In 1987 Saskatoon hosted the First International Congress on Uranium Mining, which brought peace and “green” activists together from several continents. Over Saskatchewan’s first century, thousands of citizens have participated in rallies for nuclear disarmament and to end warfare. Peace coalitions and church-based groups like KAIROS continue to advocate peace through justice. The global challenges remain—as does the local need for peacemaking between Indigenous and settler peoples.

Jim Harding

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