Calgary lacks resources on Indigenous history and culture for new Canadians

With an Indigenous population of more than 1.4 million and several centuries since European settlement, there is a lot to learn about Indigenous history and culture in Canada. But what resources are available in Calgary to teach immigrants and refugees about Indigenous Peoples?

Initiatives are just getting underway to introduce newcomers to Canada's First Nations

Kory Wilson created a guide to Indigenous people for newcomers that is distributed throughout B.C. (BCIT)

In partnership with Mount Royal University's Bachelor of Communication-Journalism program and the Calgary Journal, CBC Calgary is publishing a series profiling some of the immigrants and refugees who moved here and how they're helping shape our city. 


With an Indigenous population of more than 1.4 million and several centuries since European settlement, there is a lot to learn about Indigenous history and culture in Canada. But what resources are available in Calgary to teach immigrants and refugees about Indigenous Peoples?

Right now, the answer is not much.

In 2016, the City of Calgary's Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee wrote a report in response to Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission titled White Goose Flying.

The report consists of 94 calls to action for Calgary's reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

The 93rd recommendation is for the city to develop a newcomer's guide that would be distributed throughout immigrant serving agencies in the city.

Despite this recommendation, Kaila Laigran, communications advisor at the City of Calgary, says there is "no timeline on it at this time as the Calgary Aboriginal Urban Affairs Committee and city have been working on policy and Indigenous Relations Office projects."

Informing ourselves first

Cindy Colman, director of language and training programs at the Centre for Newcomers, says they've started meetings to discuss Indigenous education.

She says in order to properly represent Indigenous people, there must be education for Canada's permanent residents as well as newcomers.

About a year ago, the centre's staff began to hold workshops to discuss Indigenous culture with Dustin Louie, an assistant professor of Indigenous education and diversity in learning at the University of Calgary.

"We had a workshop with him looking at Indigenous history and talking about our own assumptions, what people knew, and it was really interesting for a lot of staff," Colman said.

Some staff at the Centre for Newcomers are immigrants themselves, adding a different perspective on how to approach the education.

"They talked about the stereotypes they might have had even just coming to Canada about Indigenous people. So we did that as a way of informing ourselves first, I guess, before we went into thinking about how we're going to present this situation to our newcomer clients."

Programming coming

Colyn deGraaff, manager of e-learning and communications at the Calgary Immigrant Educational Society, says the organization has applied for funding for a program on Indigenous history and culture for newcomers, but is unable to name funders at this time.

"We are currently involved with partners in both the Indigenous and immigrant community to expand educational support on this topic," deGraff says.

Colman says there are other organizations in Calgary who are considering an education program for newcomers on Indigenous culture but that's as far as things have gone for now.

Better programming and resources for newcomers is something Gosia Skwarlinska would have liked to see when she immigrated to Calgary over nine years ago.

Immigration is not going to stop and First Nations people are not going away. Each needs to know about each other and know the accurate information.- Kory Wilson

Skwarlinska says she had never even heard the word "Indigenous" as another term for First Peoples in Canada.

"It would have been great to learn some more about the actual history and great culture of First Nations people. It wasn't really covered in history classes at school," says Skwarlinska.

Vancouver example

A successful guidebook on Indigenous culture and history in Vancouver may offer some lessons and a way forward for similar efforts here in Calgary.

Vancouver's guidebook is titled First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers. It was created by Kory Wilson, the executive director of Indigenous initiatives and partnerships at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Wilson was already working with the City of Vancouver on several projects when she was approached with the idea to put together a newcomer's guide that could be distributed throughout B.C.

The guide was written in 2014 by Wilson and Jane Henderson. It touches on Indigenous history and culture, from residential schools to myths and realities about Indigenous people.

"It's being used and every time it's used, someone's learning something," says Wilson.

Since its creation, more than 5,000 hard copies have been distributed, along with a digital copy that can be downloaded online. It is also used in K-12 classrooms in B.C. and throughout the 75 immigration agencies partnered with the city.

"Immigration is not going to stop and First Nations people are not going away. Each needs to know about each other and know the accurate information," Wilson says.

Residential schools

There is an entire chapter dedicated to the legacy of residential schools in the guide.

"Even if you didn't go to residential schools, you've been affected by residential schools, most likely," says Wilson.

Although Wilson did not attend a residential school herself, her grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins did.

Other provinces would benefit from First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers, Wilson says. If interested, sections of the guide specified towards B.C. could be removed so all cities across Canada can learn the basic foundational knowledge of Indigenous history and culture.

"If we eliminate the stereotypes -- and quite frankly, outright lies -- that people perpetuate about Indigenous people or about immigrants, then the better society we're going to have and a more inclusive and a diverse world."


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