New book explores the relationships between Indigenous people and new Canadians

Of note. Have included the chapter to give a flavour of the thinking of the more activist immigrant perspective:

A new collection of essays, Reconciliation in Practice: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, is exploring the intersection of immigration and reconciliation.

The book’s editor, Dr. Ranjan Datta, explains his motivation for the exploration of the subject this way, “I know that as an immigrant, I am a guest in this Treaty 6 territory. I came here for a secure life that I did not have in my motherland; therefore, I am grateful to the Indigenous people in Canada for providing the opportunity to learn from them and build solidarity with their struggle. I also know as an immigrant in Canada that learning about reconciliation from Indigenous people is not only beneficial to them but will also create many benefits for me, including educating me, creating a sense of belonging in this land, and empowering me. I not only have a strong commitment and passion for learning the meaning of reconciliation from Indigenous perspectives, but it is also my responsibility.”

Here we offer an excerpt from chapter author Ali Abukar.

Reconciliation and New Canadians

By Ali Abukar

In this chapter, I share stories explaining why, as a new Canadian and a former refugee, I feel grateful to live and work on Treaty Six Territory and the Homeland of the Métis. I discuss my two years of community-based professional experience with reconciliation in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Through my reconciliation activities in Saskatoon, I claimed my identity as a global citizen and a promoter of diversity and multiculturalism. In this chapter, I argue that reconciliation means working together to meet shared needs and celebrate shared successes through dialogue and relationship building. I also believe that reconciliation means standing together against injustices, remembering and learning from the past, ensuring past injustices are not repeated, and moving toward healing as a community and as a country. Through my work with newcomers to Canada, I will continue the important process of truth and reconciliation, and community and nation building.

The welcoming atmosphere of this country, which I now call home, was established when its Indigenous Peoples greeted the initial newcomers to Canada centuries ago. The Indigenous Peoples of Canada showed the early settlers generosity and shared their land and resources with them. However, as a country, we have a history of colonialism, racism, and injustice in the way that our government systems have treated out Indigenous sisters and brothers and this land. After a long struggle, we finally have the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) report, which documents the cultural genocide that residential schools inflicted upon Indigenous Peoples. It also brings to light what can be done to bring about reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples, as immense suffering and damage were inflicted upon the Indigenous children who were sent to the residential schools and on their families. It also noted that these schools were funded and operated by the Canadian government and Canadian religious institutions.
The impact of the residential schools left Indigenous Peoples, both Survivors and those indirectly affected, with intergenerational trauma. The experiences and the related trauma resulted in loss of language, culture, Traditional Knowledge, and ways of doing things for many generations. As a new Canadian social activist and refugee advocate, I care about reconciliation and relationship building in Canada because it is an important way to promote diversity and inclusion in our community and our country.This chapter will explore some of the commonalities in the cultural practices of newcomers to Canada and Indigenous Peoples, and their shared understanding of the importance of maintaining one’s culture and identity. I discuss this commonality to establish a relatability between the two groups in the hopes of promoting relationship building and reconciliation. I also touch on the importance of cultural bridging and relationship building between newcomers to Canada and our Indigenous sisters and brothers, specifically regarding the role that settlement agencies and ethnocultural community organizations can play in reconciliation, community building, and nation building. In order to see these commonalities, I must first situate myself, acknowledge my privileges, and explore what reconciliation means to me. Through my own experiences, both my lived experience and the work I do with other new Canadians, I explore what reconciliation means to a new Canadian and how newcomers approach reconciliation by trying to establish relatability between Indigenous, newcomer, and new Canadian communities so as to create a potential for relationship building, alliances, and reconciliation.

Situating the selfI am a young black man who was born and raised in Somalia. I have lived and worked in various countries and I consider myself a global citizen. Global citizenship is a way of living that recognizes our increasingly complex, connected, and interdependent world where our actions and choices may have an impact on people and communities locally, nationally, and globally. As political scientist Michael Byers said in a talk at the University of British Columbia in 2005:

“It empowers individual human beings to participate in decisions concerning their lives, including the political, economic, social, cultural and environmental conditions in which they live. It includes the right to vote, to express opinions and associate with others, and to enjoy a decent and dignified quality of life. It is expressed through engagement in the various communities of which the individual is a part, at the local, national and global level. And it includes the right to challenge authority and existing power structures, to think, argue and act with the intent to change the world.”

Having fled my home country as a teenager, I developed empathy for the concerns of my fellow humans. This empathy grew as I learned about my own privileges and the importance of equity and social justice for humanity in the course of my post-secondary education. I am university educated and earn a decent wage at my job. My family and I have a home in a safe neighbourhood, clean drinking water, and access to basic services. I acknowledge my privileges and I am grateful for the life I live as a Canadian citizen. However, being aware of my privileges makes me question the ongoing inequities and injustices perpetrated against our Indigenous sisters and brothers. What continues to happen in the Indigenous communities is unacceptable and goes against what Canada should stand for, to me as an immigrant and new Canadian.
It is unacceptable that historical injustices against the Indigenous Peoples of this great land should persist. Although former prime minister Stephen Harper issued an apology for the residential schools in June 2008, the legacy of the schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today. In addition, this 2008 apology was not extended to the Survivors of the residential schools in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador: however, these Survivors did receive an apology in 2017 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed hundreds of former students and their families in Goose Bay:
“Saying that we are sorry is not enough. It will not undo the harm that was done to you. It will not bring back the language and traditions you lost. It will not take away the isolation and vulnerability you felt when you separated from your families, communities and cultures.”Trudeau apologized on behalf of the Canadian government and all Canadians, including new Canadians like me. He also acknowledged that there is still a lot to be done to engage in reconciliation and fix the systems, such as the current foster system, which removes so many Indigenous children from their homes in a continuation of the country’s colonial policies.

What reconciliation means to meAs a new Canadian, I see reconciliation as acknowledging the past, respecting the land on which we live, and building relationships based on respect, equity, and inclusivity. I am grateful to live and work on Treaty Six Territory and the Homeland of the Métis and Cree Nations. I stand with our Indigenous sisters and brothers against the injustices and inequalities they continue to face. To me, reconciliation will only work if we acknowledge the truth of the past, build meaningful relationships, and stand with one another against injustices and inequities. The process of reconciliation involves both Canadian society as a whole and all levels of government. Furthermore, it must be nation-to-nation, as our current government promised, and action-based. I acknowledge that there is encouraging work being done toward reconciliation and bettering the conditions in Indigenous communities, yet not much has been achieved thus far. It remains to be seen whether these promises will come to fruition.

Newcomers and reconciliationNewcomers to Canada may relate to some of the experiences of Indigenous Peoples. Many new Canadians and newcomers to Canada come from countries that were colonized by European nations. Some countries are still fighting and sacrificing many lives to protect their land and people from ongoing colonization: for example, Palestine and Somalia. The land of origin of many of these newcomers to Canada was taken by force, its resources exploited, and its people deprived of their rights. Unlike Indigenous Peoples, however, the European colonizers to these countries of origin did not stay and continue to colonize the inhabitants. This is not to say that colonization did not leave many of those countries with lasting, devastating effects. For instance, European colonizers from Britain, France, and Italy, along with Ethiopia, divided Somalia, where I was born, among themselves. Although Somalia gained independence in 1960, parts of it are still occupied by Ethiopia and Kenya. The people living on that occupied land are of Somali origin but live under either Ethiopian or Kenyan rule. What countries like Somalia and Palestine underwent at the hands of colonizers and settlers may not be the same as the Indigenous experience, but it may facilitate a relatability between the struggles of Indigenous Peoples and those of newcomers to Canada/new Canadians, whether the struggles resulted from inequality, racism, and underemployment or from colonization and oppression prior to arriving in Canada.

Many newcomers to Canada, mainly refugees and other forced migrants, witnessed forms of systemic oppression and violence that forced them to flee their home countries and seek safety and security elsewhere. For examples, we can look at what is happening in Syria, Myanmar, Somalia, and Afghanistan, among others. As a refugee, I can relate to some of the injustices that my Indigenous sisters and brothers continue to face. As shared earlier, I fled my home country of Somalia as a teenager due to civil war and violence following the fall of Somalia’s central government in the early 1990s. I lived in Cairo, Egypt, as a refugee and experienced racism and discrimination firsthand. After moving to Canada as a permanent resident and completing my graduate degree, I faced barriers to entering the labour force. I can relate to some of the struggles that other immigrants and refugees face as newcomers to Canada. However, what I found missing in educating newcomers to Canada was the history of the Indigenous Peoples — the history of colonialism and residential schools in Canada. As a new Canadian, I have an obligation to engage in reconciliation and relationship building here because I am a treaty person.
Systemic oppression has been another effect of colonialism for both Indigenous Peoples and many newcomers to Canada. The residential schools run by the Canadian government and settler religious institutions, which were intended to break the Indigenous children’s links to their culture and identity, are a particularly poignant example of this systemic oppression. The use of colonial policies by Canada’s colonial governments, including the Indian Act and residential schools, were intentional, systemic attempts to eliminate Indigenous governments, ignore Indigenous Rights, terminate treaties, and, through a process of assimilation and elimination, cause Indigenous Peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities. This is evident in the words of one senior government official in 1920: “Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into body politics.”
The Indian residential schools have all closed now, but their legacy and the devastating impacts of them on the Indigenous communities remain, including intergenerational trauma. As an example, I want to share what I learned from a session by an Indigenous educator. He said that, although he did not go to a residential school, he and his siblings were still affected, due to his parents, other relatives, and community members being Survivors. He said that growing up, he witnessed a lot of drinking in their house and his parents struggled to parent him and his siblings. There was a lot of hurt and suffering in the community where he grew up. He believes that things have now changed, and people use political correctness in general when engaging in discussions around Indigenous Peoples and reconciliation, despite the apparent racism faced by members of the Indigenous community. He was sharing his experience of residential schools and engagement with reconciliation through storytelling with some non-Indigenous community members, including newcomers to Canada and new Canadians. It was fascinating to see how engaged the immigrants were in this session, which was organized by our volunteer management program at the Saskatoon Open Door Society.
To engage in reconciliation, we need to confront the impact of ongoing racism and discrimination on marginalized communities. We must also recognize the stigma, myths and stereotypes that abound about these communities: “they do not pay taxes”; “bogus refugees/queue-jumpers”; or “they are here to abuse our welfare system and take our jobs.” The colonialism and systemic oppression of these communities include forced and unforced assimilation, capitalism, exploitation, and the degradation of resources. As discussed above, Indigenous Peoples experienced forced assimilation, whereas newcomers to Canada are expected to assimilate into Canadian society. Thanks to colonial multiculturalism and Canada’s use of the so-called integration policies to promote the full participation of immigrants in Canada’s social, economic, and political life, integration policies are not applied as strictly as in other immigration-based societies. This was evident when, in 1960, the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism clarified the distinction between assimilation and integration, noting that “man is a thinking and sensitive being; severing him from his roots could destroy an aspect of his personality and deprive society of some of the values he can bring to it.” This was not applied to the Indigenous Peoples. Instead, they were forced to assimilate through systemic oppression and colonialist policies. Current newcomers to Canada are favoured in this regard because this integration policy was put in pace when immigration to Canada was not as diverse as it is currently. Most of the immigrants were European, white, and primarily Christian. In addition, it is argued that multiculturalism, albeit a good thing as a concept, is used by Canada as a tool to assimilate newcomers into the mainstream society. David MacDonald argues that “a critical approach seeks to uncover the unspoken assumptions about assimilation at the heart of some multicultural policies, while unpacking whiteness as an invisible norm by which other ethnicities are judged.” This Canadian multiculturalism fails to recognize “the histories of oppression experienced by Indigenous Peoples and people of colour and there is a little talk of colonialism, racism, white privilege, sexism, patriarchy, heteronormativity and capitalism.”
Cultural commonalityOn the cultural level, there are shared perspectives between the Indigenous Peoples in Canada and newcomers to Canada. I share this principle of cultural commonality because it helps to bring communities closer together when they have more commonalities than differences — it facilitates connections and relationship building. In the course of my professional career in the settlement sector, I have seen both newcomers to Canada and Indigenous members of our community connect through sharing their common experiences. For example, at one of the orientation sessions organized for a group of newcomer men with our local police services, a Sudanese refugee shared that in his culture they have a tribal lineage, and one of the police officers who identified as Indigenous shared that she too has a tribal lineage in her culture. the orientation session was intended to introduce newcomers to policing in Canada; at first, there was a tension and some mistrust, but after establishing the shared cultural experiences between the Indigenous police officer and the newcomer, the two groups realized that they have a lot in common, more than they initially thought.

Other shared cultural practices include naming oneself in relation to family or ancestors, drumming and dancing, the use of traditional herbs as medicine for healing, storytelling, and placing emphasis on oral tradition. Knowledge and traditional ways of life are preserved and passed on through the generations by grandparents sharing their wisdom with their grandchildren. In many newcomer cultures, grandchildren spend time with their grandparents to learn these traditions. Celebrations of coming of age, fasting, piercing, and tattooing are also traditions common to Indigenous and newcomer communities. It is worthwhile to note similarities in important cultural practices, such as the celebration of the seasons, a relationship to the land (and the loss of that relationship through colonization and/or forced migration/capitalism and land grabbing), tribal identity, and respecting Elders and Knowledge Keepers. I cite these examples of commonalities among our Indigenous Peoples and newcomers to further illustrate what the newcomers to Canada may have in common with their Indigenous counterparts. Newcomers cannot only relate to Indigenous experiences but may also contribute to building bridges and engaging in reconciliation.
Like Indigenous Peoples, many newcomers to Canada see the importance of keeping one’s culture and identity. This is evident in how many newcomers to Canada stay within their own community for interaction and to preserve their cultural heritage. Culture and identity help both Indigenous People and immigrants maintain their ways of life. This is what makes us human beings. We tend to seek familiarity, and this tendency is greater when we move to a new community or a new country. The importance of keeping your culture and identity has to do with maintaining your heritage so that your offspring do not lose it. This was made possible through multicultural policy and the recognition of cultural and ethnic identities of immigrants as a key feature of Canadian immigration policy; however, as discussed above, this opportunity was not afforded to Indigenous Peoples in the early settler-Indigenous relationships. There seems to be a sense of familiarity between the Indigenous and newcomer communities whenever there are opportunities for storytelling and sharing through cultural activities and celebrations.
There is a strong sense of relatability between the two, and I believe the reason is that they share an understanding of the importance of maintaining and nurturing one’s culture and heritage. This will pave the way for opportunities to build relationships, bridge the gap between the communities, and engage in reconciliation in a positive way.
Cultural bridging activities as enablers of reconciliationIn Saskatoon, we have been engaging newcomers in activities that facilitate education about the history of Indigenous Peoples, including treaties. We have partnerships with various Indigenous organizations, including the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, which sends speakers to provide treaty education. We have programming for youth where both Indigenous and newcomer youth are provided with activities that respond to their needs and create opportunities for friendship and community building. We have been involved in Reconciliation Saskatoon, and we continue to partner with organizations in our community to further the conversation around reconciliation and build relationships for the betterment of our communities, society, and nation. We have hosted events specifically to promote reconciliation between newcomers to Canada and the Indigenous communities, for example, a blanket exercise to learn more about the nation-to-nation relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples in Canada. We organize many community events for the Indigenous and newcomer communities in Saskatoon that aim to build relationships and promote reconciliation and inclusion in our community. We invite Indigenous and Elders, educators, and speakers to come and engage our clients, volunteers, and staff in reconciliation and conversations about Indigenous history, knowledge, and ways of doing things. We are in the process of partnering with one of the local Indigenous community organizations to create an educational program called Reconciliation through Multiculturalism, in which members of the Indigenous communities and newcomers to Canada would share, learn together, and build relationships. I believe that these cultural bridging activities are enablers of reconciliation and relationship building and therefore will facilitate community and nation building.

A lot has changed for Indigenous Peoples in the last few decades. The last federally supported residential school remained in operation until the late 1990s, and the Survivors, their families, and their communities are still experiencing intergenerational trauma. More recently, the Indigenous communities’ struggle for equal rights and equal access to services and resources has been gaining momentum through movements such as Idle No More. It is promising that the current government has made commitments to better the relationship with Indigenous Peoples, but these commitments must include nation-to-nation relations and the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I believe that to engage in truth and reconciliation is the responsibility of everyone living in Canada, both citizens and residents alike. I feel proud to live and work in a city like Saskatoon, which declared 2015-16 the Year of Reconciliation. Since then, the city has seen many community efforts to engage in reconciliation. This has not been achieved by the provincial or federal government, but through the efforts of many community organizations and support from the city of Saskatoon. Fifty-eight organizations, including non-profits, businesses, faith communities, and other partners, came together to initiate a city-wide conversation about reconciliation and provide opportunities for everyone to engage in the TRC’s call to action at the grassroots level. From this, Reconciliation Saskatoon was born. This movement allowed the Saskatoon community to engage in a walk for reconciliation called Rock Your Roots, which has taken place for the past few years. In addition, conversations and other activities, including celebrations with music and food, are a part of the National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21.
Indeed, it is not all negative. Our Indigenous sisters and brothers and their ancestors have welcomed many people from diverse backgrounds and shared their land with them. They have shown us all a great deal of generosity, settlers and newcomers alike. Although there are still ongoing injustices and inequities toward many Indigenous communities, we have come a long way, and we have an opportunity to work together through dialogue and relationship building. That is what reconciliation is all about. I find that there is a lot of engagement and education about reconciliation, as well as awareness of Indigenous Land Rights, cultures, and heritage. Still, the injustices and inequities against the Indigenous communities continue, whether it is access to services, involvement in decision-making on resource development, or self-determination and governance. Some scholars have argued that these injustices continue, in part, because of conflicting desires on the part of settlers. As Indigenous scholar Taiaiake Alfred said, “In relation to settler colonialism ‘Canadians are in denial in extremis.’ Denial can be inferred from our failure to reconcile our conflicting desires.” Although many of us want Indigenous Peoples to have their full rights and have a say on how resources are developed on their land, we still want to enjoy cheap consumer goods and maintain our economy, and we may fear Indigenous sovereignty would mean the loss of land and our homes. These conflicting desires may be preventing us from dealing with the injustices and inequities some communities face. Indigenous scholar Glen Coulthard argues that “for Indigenous nations to survive, capitalism must die.” I agree there may be conflicting desires within us; however, we need to find ways to examine our conscience regarding what is happening in our society. One important issue that resonates with me is how we can focus on a damage-centred narrative without thinking about how to effectively build bridges and relationships and facilitate healing that deals with the ongoing injustices together as a community and society while keeping our elected officials accountable. I believe in embracing reconciliation over and above all the conflicting desires and competing priorities for the betterment of our communities and society.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls to action (new Canadians)There have been some concerns that immigrants and refugees coming to Canada do not know about Indigenous Peoples and the history of colonialism. The orientation materials provided to newcomers to Canada lack information on the history of Indigenous Peoples. In my own move to Canada, I was not given the opportunity to learn enough about the Indigenous Peoples, their history, and their positive contributions to Canadian society. I had a brief orientation that only covered topics like living in Canada, what to expect, and how to access available services. It was about preparing newcomers for life in Canada. What is not included is the history of the Indigenous Nations, their relationship with the Government of Canada, and the current realities in many Indigenous communities in this country. One of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s (TRC) calls to action, number 93, addresses this specific situation, exhorting the federal government, in collaboration with national Indigenous organizations, to revise its information kit for newcomers and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Indigenous Peoples, including information on treaties and the history of residential schools. Further, the calls to action recommend that the citizenship oath include the obligation to faithfully respect Indigenous treaties. Though promises were made to incorporate these calls to actions in the Canadian Orientation Abroad program for newcomers to Canada and the citizenship oath, they have not yet been implemented, partly because modifying the citizenship oath requires an amendment to the Citizenship Act.

Another concern about newcomers to Canada, both immigrants and refugees, is that they will learn negative stereotypes about Indigenous Peoples from the settlers or newcomers who have arrived before them. While this is certainly happening (as Datta argues in his chapter), it is not inevitable. In research conducted by Immigration Partnership Winnipeg in 2014, participants from both Indigenous and newcomer communities were found to hold negative perceptions of the other that they acknowledged were not accurate. However, they also expressed sympathy regarding the similar challenges the two communities face, and they agree that they have a lot in common and many shared experiences.
ConclusionI learned more about Indigenous Peoples in my first year of graduate studies after I moved to Canada. I was studying at a university on the Traditional Territory of the Neutral, Anishnawbe, and Haudenosaunee peoples in what is now known as Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. During my studies, I was exposed to the traditions of the Indigenous Peoples in the specific areas of smudging, dancing, drumming, songs, and food (soup and bannock). These traditions were observed regularly throughout the year and more so at events. In addition, I learned about the land acknowledgment and honouring the Elders from the Indigenous community. All this was made possible thanks to the Indigenous Field of Study program at Wilfred Laurier University. I believe I was lucky as a newcomer to Canada to have had these opportunities. They encouraged me to maintain a strong sense of social justice and to stand with all disadvantaged peoples in Canada. To be honest, I was quite shocked to learn of the living conditions of many disadvantaged people(s) in Canada — I did not expect that this country would fail to take care of its people.

Talking about the challenges many Indigenous Peoples face is not enough. Land acknowledgments are not enough. We need to build relationships and act on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples. The question is, what can we do beyond land acknowledgments to truly engage in reconciliation work, community building, and nation building?

  • Learn — We should learn about oppression, privilege and the history of colonization of the Indigenous Peoples and their cultures.
  • Build relationships — Building relationships is a vital aspect of standing together with our Indigenous sisters and brothers against the injustices and inequities the Indigenous communities face.
  • Act — Being accountable to Indigenous communities, supporting their causes, and standing up against unacceptable abuse, myths, and racism toward Indigenous Peoples. Furthermore, we need to align with their struggle and speak up when something problematic is said.
As an organization in the settlement sector in Saskatchewan, we at the Saskatoon Open Door Society realize the importance of working with the Indigenous communities to build relationships and promote diversity and inclusion. We have been doing this for years now through co-programming and creating venues for dialogue, storytelling, and sharing experience between the newcomers to Canada and the Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan. As a community member and leader of a settlement organization whose values include respect, inclusion, empowerment, engagement, and equality, I am committed to continuing to promote reconciliation and relationship building on our community as we work toward a diverse, just, and more inclusive community and country.

Source: New book explores the relationships between Indigenous people and new Canadians

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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