Free two-day conference explores stories of diverse people belonging and living together

How can people from different cultures learn to live with each other so that everyone can flourish? That's one of the questions discussed by a diverse group of people, including artists, writers, musicians and academics, during the free two-day conference called Threads: Cultural Conversations.

Indigenous knowledge keeper and international adoptee among speakers at Threads: Cultural Conversations

Speakers will share their advice on living in harmony in a time of uncertainty across the globe. (CBC)

How can people from different cultures learn to live with each other so that everyone can flourish? 

That's one of the questions discussed by a diverse group of people, including artists, writers, musicians and academics, during the free two-day conference called Threads: Cultural Conversations.

The virtual event runs on Wednesday and Thursday and is hosted by the Saskatoon Open Door Society (SODS). CBC Saskatoon is a sponsor of the event.

Threads: Cultural Conversations uncovers the numerous issues, challenges and wants that newcomers, Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures face in Canada, according to the SODS website. 

"It's a very important thing to engage with other people because no man or woman is an island," Anita Ogurlu, one of the organizers of Threads: Cultural Conversations, said on CBC's Saskatchewan Weekend.

"By opening up to someone new, it's a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the world, the other person and yourself."

Residential school survivor will give opening remarks

One of the speakers at the symposium will be Judy Pelly, an Anishinaabe residential school survivor.

On Wednesday the knowledge keeper, who was born and raised in Cote First Nation, will provide the opening remarks at the two-day event.

"Cultural conversation is very important at this time and in a time of truth and reconciliation in Canada," Pelly said in an interview on Saskatchewan Weekend.

There are "a lot of newcomers coming into the country and we have to share our communities and our space with one another."

It's important to appreciate that we are all similar, but also different culturally, and to have respect for all those around us, said Pelly.

70-year-old Judy Pelly is an Anishinaabe residential school survivor from Cote First Nation in central east Saskatchewan. She works with 30 organizations within Saskatoon and provincewide on issues of truth and reconciliation, intergenerational trauma, and hope and healing. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

Pelly is a cultural advisor with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and works a lot with vulnerable people in Saskatoon.

"Those historical injustices have really made a big impact on our Indigenous community," said Pelly.

"People didn't learn about that. I myself didn't learn about colonization until I was in university. It was the very first time that I ever realized the true picture of what happened to us."

Pelly was born in 1951, into a family of residential school survivors, many of whom struggled with alcoholism. 

As a child, she had to go to the Catholic-run St Philip's residential school near Yorkton. Around the age of seven or eight she was sexually abused, said Pelly.

"Everything, my whole life changed," she said.

"In the first years of your life, you're living in a community where there's still that traditional upbringing. You're growing up with all that love and then all of a sudden that's all stripped away from you."

The abuse she experienced at the residential school led to a life of alcoholism. Pelly started drinking at the age of 12 or 13, she said. Today, the 70-year-old has been sober for 20 years. 

"I did get healing when I was around 50 in my culture," she said.

"Now I use that lived experience working with our vulnerable population. I work with a lot of women at risk and I get trust, immediate trust."

Judy Pelly is a Knowledge Keeper, a Saulteaux elder, and a residential school survivor. She shares her story as a way of helping other survivors heal from their trauma. She's part of Threads: Cultural Conversations this week. It's a free virtual event organized by the Saskatoon Open Door Society. Host Shauna Powers speaks to Judy about her life.

At Threads: Cultural Conversations Pelly hopes to encourage people to show respect, love, humility, wisdom and the courage to speak out, she said.

"It's very important that we encourage one another to be proud of who we are," she said.

Pelly said it's also important "to never forget where we came from, that our cultures and our languages make us who we are."

The story of a transracial and international adoptee

Many of the speakers at Threads: Cultural Conversations started their lives outside of Canada in different parts of the world – like Shelley Rottenberg.

The Saskatchewan woman is a transracial and international adoptee who was born in China at the time of the One Child Policy.

At eight months of age, Rottenberg's parents adopted her and brought her to Canada. 

"When I was younger, I knew I was adopted," she said on Saskatchewan Weekend. "But I didn't really think too much about it. So I feel like I had a very normal Canadian childhood growing up."

As a young child, she accompanied her mother to China to adopt her younger sister. Other than that, she didn't have many connections to her country of birth.

Shelley Rottenberg was born in China and adopted by a Canadian family when she was just 8 months old. She shares with host Shauna Powers the story of her journey to embracing both cultures. Shelley is part of the Saskatoon Open Door Society's upcoming event called 'Threads: Cultural Conversations'.

Growing up, Rottenberg connected with some other adoptees from China who lived in the area, she said. At the time though the experience didn't mean as much to her as it does today.

"Now as I am older, and I have connected more with my adoptee identity, it's become more valuable as an adult connecting with others who have similar experiences as me."

One of Rottenberg's two presentations during the online symposium will focus on her experiences of reconciling diverse identities. Connecting with other Chinese adoptees as a grown woman made her realize she wasn't alone with some of her feelings.

"Growing up, I did have issues, I think, with accepting who I am."

With files from Saskatchewan Weekend