Edmonton's Indigenous and Somali-Canadian youth join forces to combat racism

Edmonton's Indigenous and Somali-Canadian are banding together to tackle racism in the new Global Indigenous Youth Coalition.

'We need to work together to figure this out,' says Nigel Robinson with the Global Indigenous Youth Coalition

Ikram Abdinur co-founded the Global Indigenous Youth Coalition to tackle racism in Edmonton. (Andrea Huncar/CBC)

Youth from Canada's oldest and newest communities are banding together to tackle systemic racism in Edmonton.

They've launched the Global Indigenous Youth Coalition, predominantly made up of youth from Edmonton's Somali-Canadian and Indigenous communities.

The coalition, which welcomes people of all backgrounds, offers a safe space to raise concerns while building bridges to understand and advocate for each other and create an equal society for all.

"It does feel ... so hard to go through these things and feel like you're alone," said Ikram Abdinur, 21, co-founder of the group. "And then when people do come together and they listen to each other and they are there for each other and just basically that presence — it's so powerful because it doesn't only mean a brighter future, it means a more kind present."

'It doesn't only mean a brighter future, it means a more kind present.'- Ikram Abdinur,  Global Indigenous Youth Coalition

It all began last year when dozens of young people of various backgrounds participated in a social justice forum. They soon discovered the racism they experience is often the same.
Coalition co-founder Nigel Robinson said as one community they can be better advocates for each other. (Hafsa Abdulle/Supplied)

"They'll hear that you have an accent or they'll see the colour of your skin or they'll see your racial markers like a necklace or the way you wear your hair and they'll choose to not help you ... or sometimes the police can just target you," said the group's other executive director Nigel Robinson of Cold Lake First Nation.

"The police is a big part of it as well as the general populace's view of Indigenous and Somali people that really kind of glues us together. We need to work together to figure this out."

Abdinur said many participants shared stories of being underestimated by school staff or raising concerns of discrimination only to have them dismissed. But as they opened up about their feelings of isolation and powerlessness, something positive emerged.

"I felt validated in all the things I second-guessed myself about when I was younger," she said. "After those few meetings where we poured our hearts out and talked about our negative experiences, we really felt we had to change things."

'From Somalia To Amiskwaciy'

As the new group begins to map out strategies to tackle racism in the education and transit systems, they've already begun strengthening their relationship through understanding and celebration. 

They recently held their first event 'From Somalia To Amiskwaciy: Storytelling." Amiskwaciy Waskahigan is the traditional Cree name for Edmonton which means Beaver Hills House, said Robinson.

About two dozen youth, along with elders and supporters, turned up at Aroma Cup, a cafe in the Norwood neighbourhood, to share an evening of traditional food, storytelling, poetry, comedy and history. Guests were also invited to put paint to brush and transform a blank canvas as a group. 
Youth recently shared their stories at an event organized by the Global Indigenous Youth Coalition. (Lise Robinson/Supplied)

"If we can create a community then we can better be advocates for each other and combat these kind of incidents and make our city a safer place for our shared peoples," said Robinson.

Among those to take the mic was Vicki Moses, 22, an actor and poet who tackles tough topics such as drugs, homelessness and domestic violence:

"...Words. Words were her kryptonite ... Her heart was beaten and bruised but her soul remains true."

Moses said she chose poems to reflect personal moments that would help break down stereotypical views that Indigenous people are "drug addicts" or "drunks."

"I did that so they would understand I'm a person like them," she explained.

Edmonton youth poet laureate Nasra Adem, who also performed, noted the "involuntary sacrifices" made by Indigenous Canadians "so that we could all build a life here.

"That should be respected," she said. "We are all immigrants to this land."

Edmonton Youth Poet Laureate Nasra Adem says their solidarity is transformative

6 years ago
Duration 1:52
Edmonton Youth Poet Laureate Nasra Adem performs at the event 'From Somalia To Amiskwaciy: Storytelling.'

Adem described the solidarity between Indigenous and black African communities in Canada as "incredibly transformative."

She said they share many similarities such as being systemically oppressed and unfairly represented in the media, but also their resilience and ability to find joy and celebration and hold on to traditions.

"I think that relationship — in the face of all of that — is like revolution," said Adem. "It's protest in the most beautiful and loving and peaceful sense of that word."

At the end of the evening, tears in her eyes, Abdinur said she was grateful for a space where people could open up in front of a crowd where they're accepted "100 per cent."

Follow Andrea Huncar on Twitter @andreahuncar. You can also contact her via email.
"When we bring our communities together beautiful things can happen," Nigel Robinson said. (Hafsa Abdulle/Supplied)


Andrea Huncar


Andrea Huncar reports on human rights and justice. Contact her in confidence at andrea.huncar@cbc.ca