Meet the neighbours: Coast Salish and Syrian communities unite for evening of music and food

Cross-cultural exchange is the theme of a dinner on Thursday at the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre in Vancouver.

'It means a lot because we never saw peace in our land,' says Kurdish-Syrian immigrant

The Together mural overlooking the Ray-Cam Co-Operative Centre, a collaboration between Ray-Cam youth and text artist Ben Johnston. Ray-Cam is hosting the Coast Salish and Syrian Long Table Dinner and Cultural Night. (Ray-Cam Co-Operative Facebook)

Cross-cultural exchange is the theme of a dinner on Thursday at the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre in Vancouver.

Coast Salish and Syrian community members will come together to share traditional music and food from their cultures, while discussing ways to improve their community and unite, according to organizers.  

Robin Garcia, who also goes by her Indigenous name, Seckwahmia, is Musqueam and a board member for Ray-Cam. She will be taking part in the dinner and welcoming Syrian guests to the traditional lands of her ancestors, she said. 

"It's a respectful thing for our nations to gather information [on] each other and get to know each other. And to share what we were taught a long time ago from our people,"  Seckwahmia told The Early Edition guest host Renee Filiponne.

Ray Cam aims to provide a safe and accepting environment for members of its community and facilitate partnerships, according to the organization's mission statement.

Robin Garcia, who also goes by her Indigenous name, Seckwahmia, is Musqueam and a board member for the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre, the organization hosting the Coast Salish and Syrian Long Table Dinner and Cultural Night. (CBC)

Common ground

Organizers of the event say that poverty, housing and education are concerns that both Indigenous and Syrian people share.
 
Ray-Cam is situated between the Downtown Eastside and Commercial Drive — an area that has structural poverty, according to Ray-Cam planning and engagement co-ordinator Irwin Oostindie.
 
"Indigenous communities have been persevering [despite] a lack of employment and with health and poverty issues. The influx of Syrian refugees [has] created questions around how much load the community can carry. Those are sometimes angry conversations and sometimes friendly conversations between community members," Oostindie told the CBC.  

Oostindie said that Ray-Cam is stepping into this charged space with the intent to unify the community. The sharing of food and cultural practices is a major way the communities can get to know each other and understand each other's struggles, said Oostindie. It creates an opening to have serious social and political conversations.

Jin Yusuf, a Kurdish-Syrian refugee, says that since moving to Vancouver two years ago, she has felt accepted by the community. (CBC )

Jin Yusuf, a Kurdish-Syrian immigrant, will be attending the dinner. She says that since moving to Vancouver two years ago, she has felt accepted by the people she has met. 

"They welcome you and respect you. And it means a lot, because we never saw peace in our land," Yusuf told Filiponne.

Welcoming immigrants to Canada is a new thing for Seckwahmia. But she says she knows it feels nice to be acknowledged.

"My children need to know there's people out there that need to learn about our culture … I love that these people have come here because they really need it," said Seckwahmia.

The Coast Salish and Syrian Long Table Dinner & Cultural Night takes place Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Ray-Can Co-Operative Centre.

Listen to Seckwahmia and Jin Yusuf on The Early Edition: 

Tonight Vancouver's Coast Salish and Syrian communities come together for a dinner of traditional Indigenous and Syrian food and music at the Ray-Cam Co-operative Centre. 7:22

With files from The Early Edition