Newcomers to Winnipeg are meeting with indigenous people Thursday night to break down stereotypes immigrants and refugees might have about indigenous peoples.
"Newcomers who settle in the downtown or anywhere in Winnipeg pick on the stereotypes existing of indigenous people that are very negative, very quickly," said Abdikeir Ahmed, the co-ordinator at Immigration Partnership Winnipeg.
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Refugees and immigrants learn very little about indigenous peoples before they come to Canada, said Ahmed.
"You're told by people who came before you as well as mainstream society that indigenous people are lazy, they're struggling with alcohol issues, they're poor and can't do things for themselves," he said. "Here's an opportunity for us to correct this by providing an opportunity for indigenous people to welcome and provide first-time perspectives on who they are, what their culture is and how we can help each other."
The Indian and Metis Friendship Centre is hosting Welcome to Turtle Island Thursday night, which includes a bannock and stew feast and a meeting about resources, programs and space the indigenous community can share with the Syrian community. Indigenous organizations, immigration and refugee organizations, grassroots groups and the public are invited.
"It's a great honour for us to host the Syrians," said Garry McLean, president of the friendship centre's board.
"Out of the 100,000 or so indigenous people in the City of Winnipeg, 90 per cent plus of us are successful," he said. "We're not all bad people."
The friendship centre can host about 800 people and McLean said the organization is opening its doors to newcomers.
Some newcomers to Canada share similar cultural traditions with indigenous people, such as drumming and smudging, and some newcomers also faced colonization, said Ahmed.
Ahmed is from Kenya, which gained independence from Britain in 1963, but the effects of colonization were still present while he attended high school in the late 1990s. If anyone spoke their first language in school, they were forced to wear a disc around their neck that said "I'm stupid," he said.
"We are people of the same life, people of the same culture. We have gone through the same colonial experience," he said. "We have more things in common than divides us, and it's better to know an indigenous person, to live next to them, than to stay away from them."