“I grew up feeling like I was a minority ,” says Kanani Davis, a member of Sheshatshiu Innu Nation and director of Mamu Tshishkutamashutau Innu Education (MTIE). Diversity and multiculturalism are imprinted in the Atlantic Canadian DNA, akin to the fossils at Joggins, N.S., or Mistaken Point, N.L.
Indigenous peoples and immigrant communities have more in common than meets the naked eye. According to 2016 census data, 91,705 immigrants and 99, 960 Indigenous peoples call Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island home.
But, internationally, when one thinks of Canada, descriptors like “cold,” “G7 nation,” “developed” and “peaceful” are some adjectives that come to mind. Indigenous peoples are rarely associated with Canada’s image, says Casey Polonio, an engineer and a Garifuna immigrant from Belize who now lives in P.E.I.
“I knew it as a large, rich, first-world nation that loved maple syrup so much they put a leaf on the flag. I also thought of Mounties in their flat-brimmed hats and red jackets. All crude stereotypes, of course, including the images I’d formed of igloo dwellings in the far … far north," he said.
“On the topic of race, however, it was also easy to form an image of a predominantly Caucasian population, especially in the urban areas and common suburbia."
Precious Familusi, the director of student life with Memorial University of Newfoundland, is originally from Nigeria and moved to the province from the United Kingdom in 2013 to attend high school. Newcomers to Canada don’t think of Indigenous populations until they arrive.
“You think of European settlers and the dominant Caucasian people here. You also think of diversity in terms of other ethnicities, but you don’t think of Indigenous people. The most you see about Indigenous people are in Westerns,” he said. First encounters
For a large portion of time, Indigenous history was never addressed by mainstream society. Only recently, due to the calls for action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, have the atrocities of Canadian colonization been brought to the forefront.
Immigrants seldom have an opportunity to truly get to know the foundation of the place they now call home. It’s often through chance encounters they embark upon self-educating themselves about Indigenous peoples.
A radio show introduced Polonio to the darker side of Canadian history. He suspects that “fears of being offensive when bringing up culture and ethnicity among people of different demographics” is stopping conversations that need to happen.
"Truth is, though, being open and realizing that offense is usually not the intent is the only way to be educated and to educate through those conversations," he said.
Kanani Davis, a member of the Sheshatshiu Innu Nation and director of education for Innu of Labrador, attributes the lack of the Indigenous narrative on an international scale to the oppression and suppression these cultures have faced.
“For many years, we’ve been silent. Because we couldn’t speak up for ourselves, we were suppressed, we weren’t given a voice. We were looked down on. Even to this day, we feel we don’t have a voice.”
Familusi’s introduction to Indigenous peoples was by sheer chance — and it came as part of a negative context.
“My first interaction, the first time I learnt about Beothuk, it was being used to insult someone. I didn’t know what it meant. It was being used in an inappropriate way,” he said.
“I Googled it. So, that’s when I first came across it. I didn’t have full knowledge until I came to university, until I started meeting Indigenous peoples. But I’ve tried to educate myself more and more. That is how I became more knowledgeable.” ‘The other’ Being considered ‘the other’ […]
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