British Columbia

Fort St. John declares Sikh Heritage Month for 2nd year after resident pushes for recognition

The proclamation was a response to a petition by Shubhdeep Kaur, a volunteer with Fort St. John Women's Resource Society and the co-organizer of the northern B.C. city's first public Diwali event in October 2019. 

Recognition of Sikh culture makes city more inclusive, says community organizer Shubhdeep Kaur

Shubhdeep Kaur with her husband and toddler son. She says Fort St. John's official recognition of Sikh culture helps to make the city more inclusive. (Submitted by Shubhdeep Kaur)

April has been declared Sikh Heritage Month in Fort St. John, B.C., thanks to the efforts of a local Indo-Canadian community organizer.

City council passed the motion to officially name the month in a meeting on March 22, in recognition of Vaisakhi Khalsa Day, which marks the Sikh New Year on April 14.

The proclamation was a response to a petition by Shubhdeep Kaur, a volunteer with Fort St. John's Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and the co-organizer of the northern B.C. city's first public Diwali event in October 2019. 

"Sikhs have been part of Fort St. John [for] a long time," wrote Kaur in a letter to council on March 2. "Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and the Cultural Society of Fort St. John was founded in April 1987."

It's the second year in a row the city has proclaimed April as Sikh Heritage Month. Kaur will have to make another petition for a similar proclamation next year.

Kaur says she urged city council to make the proclamation because such recognition would help make the city more inclusive for Canadians of South Asian descent. 

It's the second year in a row that April has been proclaimed Sikh Heritage Month by the City of Fort St. John. (City of Fort St. John/Facebook)

Kaur, who immigrated from India to Canada in 2012 and moved to Fort St. John in 2014, remembers a hate incident that she and her family experienced in the city in June 2018.

"I was out for a walk with my parents and my four-month-old son and, out of nowhere, [somebody] from the other side of the mall started yelling at us: 'Go back to your country! You have no rights in our country!'" she told Carolina de Ryk, host of CBC's Daybreak North.

"That shook me to a very deep level."

Kaur says she's fighting for public awareness of Sikhs' presence in the community — for the sake of her son.

"Running away was not an option … this is sort of my home. I can't run away from my home," Kaur said.

"This is [my son's] country. He's born here, and this is the only home he knows … I need to do my part in educating people, creating awareness so that we can all live with the families here in the small town."

Kaur says there was some backlash from the community after last year's announcement, but she hasn't noticed any negative comments this year. 

"That is a big victory for us," she said.

Kaur says because of COVID-19 restrictions, she will celebrate Vaisakhi with her family with a big meal at home instead of joining a communal meal event at the Sikh temple.

British Columbia officially recognized April as Sikh Heritage Month in 2018. In 2019, parliament made a similar proclamation marking the month-long celebration of Sikh culture across the country.

Tap the link below to hear Shubhdeep Kaur's interview on Daybreak North:

After an encoutner with racism, Shubhdeep Kaur decided to help make her city a better place for her son. 6:52

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Winston Szeto

Digital Associate Producer, CBC Kelowna

Winston Szeto has written stories about different regions across British Columbia. Before landing in the Okanagan, he was a story producer with The Early Edition and On The Coast of CBC Vancouver. Send him tips via email or Twitter @winstonszeto

With files from Daybreak North, Tom Popyk and Dominika Lirette