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Newcomers and Indigeni

You have to be careful with social media. A few months back I threw a query on Facebook. How could I get involved helping refugees who were forced to leave their war torn countries to start anew in this (to them) foreign and strange country. Maria Morrison put me on notice. She'd be in touch.

I've always felt empathy to newcomers (which includes, refugees, recent immigrants, temporary foreign workers and all who are new to this part of Turtle Island). I know that many, if given a choice, would have stayed home had their worlds not been destroyed by wars of one kind or another. I've also known that some members of newcomer and Indigenous communities view the other with suspicion. Stereotypes abound on both sides. Natives are lazy, immigrants are stealing jobs. When confronted with intolerance of newcomers from within the Indigenous community, I've always been quick to speak up. No, Canada doesn't need to turn its backs on newcomers until it cleans up its own backyard. It can do both. And in truth Indigenous people have more in common with newcomers than we do with our European colonizers. We're both brown and we've all suffered from colonization. If anything we should have empathy. Our world, like many of their's (and to paraphrase Jesse Wente), was destroyed and we live in its ruins. I write about this in a foreign language. I have little patience for intolerance of any kind. So I was heartened when I saw Indigenous drum groups welcoming refugees at Richardson International and the Friendship Centre hosting a welcoming feast. Small steps but we need to do more so that my Indigenous grandchildren will be able to play with newcomer grandchildren without their parents or grandparents talking smack about each other. Hence my Facebook post a few months back.?

And so Maria Morrison (Coordinator of the City of Winnipeg's Citizen Equity Committee and Chair of the Indigenous Newcomer Engagement Sector Table under the Immigration Partnership Winnipeg) true to her word, got back to me. I am now a member of the Indigenous Consultation Circle who will advise the latter two of the above.?

In truth my interaction with newcomers has mostly been confined to the back seat of various taxicabs. Generally quick to start up conversations, I ask that age old, Indigenous question. "Where you from?" And in the course of said conversations it always saddens me when I hear my cab driver was a doctor back home, or an engineer, but Canada won?t recognize their credentials. And as I embark in this new circle I've already met more newcomers and have learned a lot based on documents shared. Yes we have our differences and yes, both sides carry stereotypes perpetuated by family, friends and the media (mainstream and social). But in focus groups of newcomers and Indigenous people held in 2015, once people on either side learn a bit about the other, there is empathy. Both sides recognize the need for the two communities to come together. Newcomers know little about Indigenous people when they arrive. Indigenous people know little about where newcomers have come from. Once we have increased discourse, we'll learn more about each other. Newcomers are genuinely horrified when they learn about the residential school experience and Indigenous people can understand the horrors the newcomers have left behind. Many Indigenous people are newcomers to the city of Winnipeg themselves. So yes, we have a lot in common. We just have to break bread together, get to know each other and positive relationships will follow.?

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