'We need to know about them': Newcomers experience Indigenous culture at Saskatoon showcase

To celebrate "150 plus" years of diversity in Canada, the Saskatoon Open Doors Society hosted a showcase of cultures, introducing newcomers to Indigenous people and their history.

Saskatoon Open Door Society celebrates '150 plus' years of diversity with immigrants, Indigenous people

Randi Lynn Nanemahoo Candline demonstrates jingle dancing for people celebrating '150 plus' years of diversity in Saskatoon. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)

To celebrate "150 plus" years of diversity in Canada, the Saskatoon Open Door Society hosted a showcase of cultures, introducing newcomers to Indigenous people and their history on Wednesday.

"Like the name says: First Nations. We are first peoples here and we have a lot to offer," said Florence Highway, an elder from Pelican Narrows, who blessed the event.

"We have friendship, we're open, educated, and we can provide some kind of assistance as they adjust to the new surroundings."

The event showcased the dancing of Randi Lynn Nanemahoo Candline, a jingle dancer from Bigstone Cree Nation, who then taught others how to execute simple steps.
Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark, elder Florence Highway and Ali Abkubar, executive director of the Saskatoon Open Door Society, cut the cake at Wednesday's diversity celebration. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)

Newcomers to Canada are not always exposed to Indigenous culture, but events like this one could lead to better understanding, Highway said.

"They don't see us in the office, or at different events like this, in a positive light," she said.

'It's much overdue'

Osamah Al Krad is from Syria and has been in Canada for 18 months. He and his family have been working on their English, and on their understanding of Canada and its diverse cultures.

"We're supposed to learn about First Nations people because they have a long history, and we need to know about them and what happened," he said through a translator.

Highway agrees.

"That's the foundation of any education. To begin, you need to understand the history before colonization, before all this," she said.

Though this is the first event Highway has attended of this kind, she hopes it's not the last.

Elder Florence Highway is hopeful celebrations like the one hosted by the Saskatoon Open Door Society will help lead to reconciliation. (Bridget Yard/CBC News)
She believes the trials and triumphs of Indigenous peoples in Canada should be understood, especially since, in some ways, First Nations people are still coming to terms with their own history. 

Concepts like treaties, the Indian Act, and the residential school system are not necessarily common knowledge to new immigrants.

"All Canadians, including new Canadians, need to understand the collective responsibility for dealing with issues of the past," said Ken Coates, Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

Coates's research focuses on new immigrants and their interaction with Indigenous people and their history. He calls the event "much overdue" and thinks First Nations people — and all Canadians — also have something to learn from newcomers.

"Misunderstandings can go in all directions," said Coates.

"It's valuable that this contact happen in a safe zone and that it not become a focus of a political debate."

While the event was attended by approximately 100 people of various backgrounds, Coates hopes such gatherings will grow exponentially in the future.