Saskatchewan·Called to Action

Regina Open Door Society building connections between newcomers and Indigenous people

Newcomers at Regina Open Door Society are learning about Indigenous culture, history and traditions.

Organizer says participants find similarities between their culture and Indigenous peoples'

Regina Open Door Society hosted a 'Reconciliation through Education' program in 2019, where newcomers attended a powwow at Piapot First Nation. (Regina Open Door Society)

Newcomers are finding ways to connect with Indigenous people through programs and workshops at the Regina Open Door Society (RODS).

For seven years, RODS had been running programs to bridge the gap between newcomers to Canada and Indigenous culture.

For example, the Youth Bridges program allows newcomers to connect with Indigenous youth and learn about the culture through activities while exploring traditions and history.

Alaa Safeen is now a volunteer with Regina Open Door Society after attending some of its workshops to make connections with Indigenous people. (Moreen Mugerwa/CBC)

Alaa Safeen, originally from Syria, had attended some of the RODS workshops. Safeen said she did not learn much about Indigenous people until Grade 12.

"When I was back home, I heard about the Indigenous people, but at that time I thought it was not real," said Safeen.

Safeen has a web page where she posts what she has learned in hopes of educating others back home in Syria about Indigenous culture in Canada. 

I think it's not the whole story, there's more parts to learn.​​​​​- Alaa Safeen

Zainab Mwangangi is the youth program co-ordinator at the Regina Open Door Society.

Mwangangi, who is originally from Kenya, said bridging these gaps between newcomers and Indigenous people is important. 

"When the newcomers arrive to this country, they have a lot of different stereotyping about the Indigenous people," said Mwangangi. 

Mwangagi hopes more organizations can partner to help educate newcomers about Canada. 

One thing Mwangangi has noticed is that many newcomers are seeing similarities between their culture and Indigenous culture.

'We really need allies'

RODS partnered with the Buffalo People Arts Institute for one of the programs, which was led by Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway.

BigEagle-Kequahtooway is the co-founder of the institute and was intrigued by helping newcomers learn more about Indigenous people, the history of the land and traditions. 

"I don't know what the world is saying about Indigenous people in Canada…but from my little bit of understanding it's like we're almost invisible," said BigEagle-Kequahtooway. 

Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway, left, and Zainab Mwangangi, right, hope more organizations can come together to educate newcomer youth and adults. (Moreen Mugerwa/CBC)

One thing that is missing is the support from various community organizations, BigEagle-Kequahtooway said. 

She said it is important to share the culture with newcomers so they understand where they are, especially with the land acknowledgements. 

"While we're struggling to maintain or to revive our culture, you know, we really need allies," BigEagle-Kequahtooway said. 

She said she hopes newcomers learn that the Truth and Reconciliation is about acknowledging the truth about the attempted genocide of Indigenous people. 

BigEagle-Kequahtooway would also like more support to come from non-Indigenous people who aren't newcomers.

Called to Action: Stories of Reconciliation features individuals and groups across the province who are embracing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action. Themes range from language to justice, putting the spotlight on local efforts and the people leading them. Read more Called to Action stories here.


Moreen Mugerwa is a journalist with CBC Saskatchewan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Regina. She works as a portrait and lifestyle photographer in her spare time.