Whitehorse panel talks race and prejudice in Yukon

A series of talks is addressing prejudice in Canada in a novel way. Representatives from five different faiths shared a stage in Whitehorse to discuss what they had in common.

Race Relations forum part of a broader discussion on race, culture and understanding between groups

Joe Migwans spoke of discovering Anishinaabe beliefs, which some family did not support at first. 'I went to my mom and said 'I am going to start learning the Anishinaabe ways,'' he said. 'She says 'Why can't you just go to church!'' (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A panel addressing racism and prejudice this week in Whitehorse didn't just hear concerns, but a story of thanks.

Mohammad Javed told the panel about a period of time in the early 2000s when Muslims in Whitehorse were welcomed to pray in the local United Church. 

"They provided a place to worship for five or six years. We were so small in numbers we could not afford our own place," he remembered. 

Mohammad Javed says he was surprised the United Church offered space for Muslims to pray when he arrived in Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)
Javed, who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2001, said the experience was very moving. 

"They were so welcoming we could not believe. We could not have done this back home [in Pakistan] — invited people of another religion into our mosque and let them pray. This was really an eye-opener for us."

Javed was part of a panel of representatives from five different religions speaking on racism and prejudice in an event organized by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. The first of six talks to be held in Whitehorse took place on Thursday. 

Panelists answered questions about their faiths and also explored the unexpected ways religions can intersect in a small community. 

Stuart Clark, who is chair of the Whitehorse United Church's Social Justice Committee said the goal was to help groups "make connections to make an inclusive society." 

Growing Filipino-Christian community

Panelist Yvonne Clark represents a growing community in Yukon: Christians with roots in the Philippines. She said churches often help new Canadians find friends and community. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Yvonne Clarke, representing Christians with roots in the Philippines, spoke of churches as a hub of support for new Canadians. While the specific religions might be different, she said the role of church, mosque or synagogue is often the same.

"I'm really happy I was able to build relationship with people in the church and that was a really strong support for me for many, many years."

Bonnie Fitzpatrick-Morris, representing the Bahá'í community, had a message shared by other panelists. 

"They are talking about this idea of the nobility of man. Of the oneness of mankind. Of showing love and respect to every single person on earth."

Aboriginal beliefs represented

Andy Neiman was abused in residential school and later spent years as an addict and alcoholic on the streets of Whitehorse. He spoke of finding faith and how it transformed his life. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The panel featured two aboriginal speakers who found solace in different faiths. 

Andy Nieman was abused in residential school and later spent years as an addict and alcoholic on the streets of Whitehorse.

"God says to honor all people," said Nieman, who was representing  the Protestant faith. "And that is what has helped me to heal. Because when I honor all people I had to — and did — forgive the person who abused me sexually in the residential school system. And also to forgive myself for all the hurt that I caused. I love you all and I'm glad to be here today."

Joe Migwans said he also struggled to find sobriety.

He recalled how Alcoholics Anonymous prodded him to search for a 'higher power.' This lead him to research his traditional Anishinaabe beliefs.

Not everyone in his family was supportive at first.

"I went to my mom and said 'I am going to start learning the Anishinaabe ways.' She says 'Why can't you just go to church!' 

Migwans voiced his support for the idea of an inter-faith  panel.

"I connect with people of other faiths. I believe in that," he said. 

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation says only about half of Canadians have good knowledge of religions other than their own. It believes prejudice is often caused by stereotypes and misunderstanding.


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