Friday, 30 September 2016

The journey is long but every step counts!

By Aliraza Alidina

My placement at the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg has officially ended but the project I am working on will take a while to get completed. 

Following up on the report published by the Immigration Partnership Winnipeg in April 2015 titled “Creating inter-cultural understanding: Relationship between Urban Indigenous Communities and Immigrant and Refugee Newcomers in Winnipeg’s inner-city” authored by Muuxi Adam, I am working on a report that will outline different organizations in the settlement sector who are engaged in initiatives regarding Newcomer Indigenous relations. I am interested to know how the initiatives have been designed, what elements have been incorporated, the expected goals, challenges faced, next steps and the way forward. 

The report by Muuxi Adam – which was based on focus groups of about 88 participants from each of the Indigenous and Newcomer communities and facilitated by Jackie Hogue – included important recommendations such as the following:

  • Indigenous leaders should be given a role in the orientation of newcomers, specifically in the welcoming process
  • There needs to be more programs and workshops that can stimulate awareness about the cultures of both communities
  • There needs to be partnerships between Indigenous serving organizations and Newcomer serving organizations
  • There is a necessity to create programs that specifically cater to the youth segment

An interesting theme that has subtly emerged – though not extensively at all – from the literature on ‘Newcomer Indigenous relations’ is on the role that ‘cultural brokers’ can play in smoothly bridging relationships particularly for the youth. I first heard about this term from Dr. Jan Stewart of the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg. Cultural brokers include a wide range of activities that not only facilitate interaction between different groups, but also create greater understanding. In many cases, these brokers can produce an effective change. The cultural brokers that have shown to be very effective in different parts of the world are sports and creative arts (drawings, photography, digital projects, cultural exhibitions, etc.). Through these activities youth develop self-esteem, self-advocacy skills and most importantly understanding and relating to each other in an often intimate and experiential way. 

This is an important area which I think is very relevant to the project that I am working on. In my opinion, this has not received enough attention in the literature on Newcomer/Indigenous relations. In fact, some of the good initiatives in Winnipeg do include cultural brokers (though often not acknowledged as such); however the use of cultural brokers is not much mentioned in policy recommendations. There is also some indication that some of these cultural brokers can play an important role in the healing process from an Indigenous perspective. Giving importance to ceremonies, circle talks, and interactive dialogues has a lot of potential.

There is much more that I would have loved to engage in, but it’s beyond the scope of this project. Maybe for another time! I can mention a few areas here though: international student’s orientation, citizenship tests, citizenship oath, language tests, country guide, and overseas orientation initiatives.
There is certainly a long way to go. For that reason, the conversation has to carry on.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

On Oneness – O’ahu, Hawai’i

By Jasmin Winter, soon-to-be 2nd year MDP student 

Although my tan may already be beginning to fade, my memories from this summer certainly won’t any time soon. I can honestly say that the transformative nature of the time I spent in Hawai’i merits the cheesiness of that opening sentence. 

In three months I went through the process of first adapting to and then striving to understand Honolulu and Hawai’i to the best of my ability. I learned so much from the team at We Are Oceania and my friends in Honolulu about Hawai’i, the Pacific, and new ways of looking at the world at large. The challenges and experiences that I encountered this summer also taught me a lot about myself, my values, and my priorities. 

The We Are Oceania 'ohana
In the weeks since I wrote my first blog post, my role at WAO shifted incrementally. After completing a digital storytelling project about the cultural importance and relevancy of basket weaving, I was asked to create more educational, informational videos regarding migration, health care, and tax systems and processes. My projects changed in tandem with the advent of WAO’s deadline to become an independent charity. By the end of my placement, WAO’s parent organization had yet to decide if they wanted to continue the mentoring relationship that had been established, and WAO has therefore not met this goal. Although tensions rose during this transition period, I would not have wanted to do my placement at any other time, because I grew that much closer to the team at WAO and felt genuinely invested in their success. In this way, my placement is not really ending even though I have left Hawai’i. The expression “A hui hou” means “Goodbye, until we meet again,” and I will definitely be keeping up my relationship with WAO until I can physically return. 

The final product of the basket weaving workshop
There’s a lot of talk about “culture shock” when going to a new city or country, but this trip is the first that I have taken where I have felt a sense of shock coming home. Although I have always been very analytical about Canada, having this experience in Hawai’i as a direct comparison has further widened my perspective, shedding new light on both positive and negative aspects of the place that I have come back to.

The piece of insight that I think most resonated with me is the distinction between “oneness” and “sameness,” which, when intersected with the nuances between “equality” and “equity,” teaches the need to be open about engaging with multiculturalism or any inter-group dynamic through the understanding, not the dismissal, of differences. Oneness acknowledges the importance of history, heritage, and traditional knowledge, and helps us paint a much more complex picture of humanity and society.

I am really excited to begin the new school year with this, and everything about this summer in mind.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Sharing Back the Research with the Community

By Sarah Wood, 1st year MDP student

For the second half of my placement, I returned to Winnipeg to work on data entry and analysis of the information gathered in the surveys on maternal health services that I collected in Norway House last month. After a month or so of this work, I returned to Norway House for Treaty and York Boat Days to disseminate some of the preliminary findings to community members during the health fair. The health fair drew a wide audience on this rainy August day. The participants explored the displays from various health initiatives in and around the community and filled out a health fair “passport” to win prizes.  

Our table at the health fair
Through working with Norway House during this stage of the project, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of reciprocity and sharing back the information gathered through research. Research has a long colonial history that must be acknowledged and challenged. Research should not be extractive, but reciprocal. During the health fair, quite a few people took the time to read through a pamphlet which graphically displays some of the results of the survey. There seemed to be significant interest from both men and women about the future of maternity care in the community.

I was also able to witness an exciting presentation in another area of Indigenous health during Treaty and York Boat days. Cindy Blackstock, First Nations child welfare advocate, was honoured by Norway House for her work with Jordan’s Principle. Jordan’s Principle, which seeks to end delays due to jurisdictional disputes surrounding healthcare for First Nations children, is named for boy named Jordan who was from Norway House. 
I was able to learn a lot about Indigenous maternal health during my time in Norway House and Winnipeg, but was also able to learn about many other intersecting health issues and initiatives under way in this vibrant Cree community.  

I would like to thank Norway House Cree Nation leadership for hosting me during my placement and Councillor Gilbert Fredette for his support in Norway House, as well as the staff at the Health Division for their help in ensuring I was able to distribute the surveys! I would also like to thank the research team at the University of Winnipeg, Dr. Jaime Cidro and Betsi Dolin for their guidance and support!

Cindy Blackstock speaking in Norway House