Nfld. & Labrador

Black Lives Matter, racism against Indigenous Canadians backdrop for N.L. diversity summit

The Association for New Canadians' summit — originally planned for March — aims to promote anti-racism efforts and multiculturalism.
Zainab Jerrett, executive director of the Tombolo Multicultural Festival Newfoundland and Labrador, delivers a speech at the Black Lives Matter rally in St. John's earlier this month. (Marie Isabelle Rochon/CBC)

Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, and instances of racism against Indigenous people in Canada, the Association for New Canadians held its 12th Diversity Summit, virtually, thanks to the COIVD-19 pandemic.

Organizer Meaghan Philpott said the summit, originally scheduled for March, aims to promote anti-racism efforts and multiculturalism.

"The individuals that were part of the summit are all individuals who have lived experience and they are the experts," she said. 

Philpott said they have offered sessions related to COVID-19 and racism against East Asian communities in the past and try to align training and events with current issues in the world.

'We're all racist': panellist

Panelist Jude Benoit, the co-founder of the 2-Spirit Indigenous Activist Collective, said there is deeply ingrained racism in the province. 

"We're all racist," said Benoit. "You can't just work really, really hard and then one day you're no longer a racist. I think it's an ongoing learning thing."

Jude Benoit is the co-founder of the 2-Spirit Indigenous Activist Collective Co-founder and a board member of the Social Justice Co-op, takes questions during the summit. (CBC)

Benoit said they spent the first few years of living in St. John's trying to hide that their Indigenous identity. 

"That really isolated me from a lot of the resources, and help and people and family. And that created a lot of internal problems within myself."

Sobia Shaikh, co-founder of the Anti-Racism Coalition of NL and Addressing Islamophobia, said anti-racism efforts have to start with recognizing Canada's history of genocide and erasing Indigenous people.

"We can't undo racism but we can work against it," said Shaikh.

Sobia Shaikh is the co-founder of the Anti-Racism Coalition of NL and the Addressing Islamophobia in NL Project. (CBC)

She said racism stems from colonialism, when some people were treated as less human. 

"These ideas about race are faulty. They're scientifically faulty, they're not true," she said.

Activist Hasan Hai, who moderated the anti-racism session, said to be anti-racist, people need to actively combat racism, not merely consider themselves not racist.

"It could be everything from saying something, it could be responding to a Facebook post, it could be taking action in your workplace or your friend group," said Hai.

He said to become an ally or anti-racist is a journey, and people must start by educating themselves.

"For those who are uncomfortable having conversations on race, lean into that discomfort. Obviously don't harm people, but don't shy away from that discomfort," he said.

Lack of Knowledge

Panelist Zainab Jerrett, executive director of the Tombolo Multicultural Festival, says the root cause of racism is lack of knowledge. 

The non-profit festival promotes cultural diversity, the understanding of other cultures, and helps immigrants integrate into the province.

"Getting to know the other person's culture will help me to look at them as human beings, fellow human beings," said Jerrett, who moved to Newfoundland and Labrador from Nigeria to attend Memorial University in 1992. 

Jerrett says people are becoming less afraid to speak out against racism. (CBC)

With the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, she said, people feel less afraid to speak out or act against racism.

"It is different now. [There's] more collective or communal support for any causes or activism," she said, adding that more needs to be done.

Contributions to business 

MUN economics professor Tony Fang said immigration will help grow the province's population and economy. 

"Immigrant newcomers also contribute to job creation, actually mostly through consumption but also investment, like buying houses," said Fang.

One example of newcomers' contribution to the business community, the St. John's Farmers' Market, is home to vendors from more than 20 different countries, according to executive director Pam Anstey, who calls the farmers market the new face of St. John's.

The St. John's Farmers' Market has vendors from more than 20 countries. Executive director Pam Anstey says it's the new face of St. John's. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

"We are delighted to welcome people from all over the world to be able to showcase what they bring to this city," she said.

She says the market is also vital in helping newcomers set up their businesses, helping them navigate acquiring food licences, safety training and other bureaucratic processes.

"They come to the market and they find someone cooking food from their home, and the smells and the aromas and the flavours of their home country and that in particular is meaningful and poignant for us," she said.

"The entire thing is a win for everybody."

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