'Indigenizing settlement': Building bridges between newcomers and Indigenous people in Sask.

Two high school students say being from two different parts of the world has helped them develop an important and gratifying friendship through their personal stories.

Saskatoon students from different parts of the world say their friendship contributes to reconciliation

Azwa Alam and Daniell Sunshine have become friends since meeting at high school in Saskatoon. 'We experience racism on some level, so it connects us,' said Sunshine. (Omayra Issa/CBC)

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Azwa Alam and Daniell Sunshine say being from two very different parts of the world has helped them develop an important and gratifying friendship.

Their relationship is part of an ever-evolving dynamic between newcomers and Indigenous people in Saskatchewan.

Alam emigrated from Bangladesh two years ago. Sunshine is from Fishing Lake First Nation. The two have been friends since the day they met last September at Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon.

"I shared about how I'm passionate when it comes to things like filmmaking, spoken word, poetry, and that's how I started talking to Daniell," said Alam.

"I was sharing how murdered and missing indigenous women were important to me. It was like a personal connection. We kind of just made connections with that and just went from there," recalled Sunshine.

The two young women are now working on a podcast about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

New Canadians promise to honour treaties with Indigenous peoples as part of their oath of citizenship. The change is to reflect the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action. (Omayra Issa/CBC)

Indigenizing settlement

Settlement organizations, the entry point for many immigrants in Saskatchewan, say they are working to foster relationships between Indigenous people and newcomers.

"For so long, we've recognized that when newcomers come here, we want them to get certain education, to get to certain language level, have a certain understanding of Canadian culture, but one of the things we've missed is educating them on Indigenous culture," said Jess Hamm, executive director of Saskatchewan Intercultural Association. 

She said she has seen some newcomers pick up negative attitudes towards Indigenous people and vice-versa. Her organization runs an eight-week program where newcomers and Indigenous gain employment skills while learning about each other's cultures.

We live in the same communities, next to each other, our kids go to the same schools.- Ali Abukar, executive director, Saskatoon Open Door Society

Ali Abukar, executive director of Saskatoon Open Door Society, said his organization is also trying to bridge that gap.

"About seven to eight years ago, we took our programing in those two places, the Core Neighbourhood Youth Co-op and White Buffalo Youth Lodge. The partnership is that we do programming on the newcomer youth, but we open our programming to the Indigenous youth," he said.

This is part of larger national movement that organizations like the Saskatchewan Intercultural Association are calling "Indigenizing settlement."

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for revisions to the information kit for newcomers to Canada and the citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Indigenous peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.

"We live in the same communities, next to each other, our kids go to the same schools," Abukar said.

The federal government has revised the oath of citizenship so that new Canadians faithfully observe the country's treaties with Indigenous people.

A long tradition of Indigenous hospitality

Rob Innes, head of the department of Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said education about Indigenous people and Indigenous history in Canada is about community building.

He said Indigenous people have always welcomed immigrants, going back to Europeans arriving here centuries ago.

Innes said this hospitality should not obscure the truth about colonization in Canada.

"Even though you're a newcomer, you still have a responsibility as all Canadians do to work towards reconciliation, and to work at acknowledging the ways Indigenous people have been colonized and continue to be colonized," he added.

Innes said Indigenous nations and Metis communities should be part of the welcoming process for newcomers, as when Syrian refugees settled in Saskatoon recently went to Wanuskewin to be welcomed by Indigenous people.

Friendship and reconciliation

Alam and Sunshine say their friendship and podcast project contributes to reconciliation. They say their experiences as an Indigenous person and a person of colour bind them.

"We experience racism on some level, so it connects us," Sunshine said.

"I also face racism, and it's not anything near what Indigenous people face here. I feel it's our responsibility to help," Alam said.


Omayra Issa


Omayra Issa is a senior reporter for CBC News based in Saskatchewan. She has reported in several Canadian cities, including Saskatoon and Ottawa. @OmayraIssa