Saskatchewan

Tense relationship between Indigenous people and immigrants inspires academics to bring groups together

When Ranjan Datta immigrated to Canada 10 years ago, he was bombarded with negative attitudes toward Indigenous people. 

The project became a book called Reconciliation in Action

Communal gardening was one of the activities Ranjan Datta and Chris Scribe used to bring together Indigenous people and immigrants. (Doikanoy/Shutterstock)

When Ranjan Datta immigrated to Canada 10 years ago, he was bombarded with negative attitudes toward Indigenous people, mostly from fellow immigrants.

"I heard Indigenous people are not doing enough. There are many other misconceptions as well," said Datta, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, on CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

He said his conception changed when he moved here and became friends with Indigenous people. But still, he heard negative remarks toward the way indigenous people live.

"Even some of the faculty members, they are saying, 'Indigenous people getting free tax. They're not working.'"

One person told Datta that residential schools were "good" for Indigenous people.

"When I heard this conception or misconception — I hear this is not the lack of education, they still lack the opportunity to learn," said Datta.

'A lot of people were adopting these misconceptions of Indigenous people in our territory that were harmful,' said Ranjan Datta, ediotr of the book Reconciliation in Practice. (CBC News)

Datta reached out to Chris Scribe, the director of the Indigenous Teacher Education Program (ITEP) at the University of Saskatchewan, to help build relationships between Indigenous people and immigrants.

"We also faced a similar issue back home Bangladesh. So for me, it was kind of easier understanding what kind of racism is going on," said Datta.

'We are the original storytellers of this land,' said Chris Scribe, a Nakoda/Cree man from the Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation and Nakota Oyate Assiniboine Nation. (CBC News )

Scribe said that he is not surprised by the remarks Datta heard when he got to Canada.

"Oppressed people tend to oppress others when we get into those situations," Scribe said.

One idea Ranjan sent to Scribe was to have the groups work together on community gardens.

"We thought that this was an excellent opportunity to break down misconceptions, to break down racism, to break down all of the facts that are wrong about Indigenous people in Saskatchewan, in Canada," Scribe said.

Scribe said that community gardens influence interaction between people, specifically indigenous and immigrant people.

"I mean it's a simple hello and it's also asking about language. 'How do you say hello in your language?' And then we share it in an indigenous language as well and build relationships that way," said Scribe.

Datta said they invited elders to come to the gardens and teach immigrants why land and food sovereignty is important for Indigenous people.

"At the end of 2019, we had many gardeners, now they know what are the colonial stories and they had time to understand why they should take responsibility," said Datta.

The budding relationship between immigrants and indigenous people prompted Datta to write a book titled  Reconciliation in Practice. This book has "contributors to this volume, many of whom are themselves immigrants and refugees, take up the challenge of imagining what it means for immigrants and refugees to live as treaty people."

About the Author

Ntawnis Piapot is Nehiyaw Iskwew from Piapot Cree Nation. She has a journalism degree from the University of Regina, and is a graduate from the INCA Media and Intercultural Leadership Program from the First Nations University. Ntawnis has been a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan, APTN National News, CTV Regina, VICE News, J-Source and Eagle Feather News. Email: ntawnis.piapot@cbc.ca

with files from CBC's Saskatoon Morning

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