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On February 7th, 2018, IDI and Darchei Noam held their 3rd annual World Interfaith Harmony Week event, in partnership with the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto. The theme for the evening was Our Home, Our stories: Indigenous, Muslim, and Jewish Communities in Dialogue. Music was a central theme for sharing this dialogue for the evening.
Toronto City Councillor James Pasternak attended the event and brought greetings from Mayor John Tory. He began his remarks by acknowledging that Toronto is not a perfect city, but that work is being done to build social cohesion and engage in a call to civility. Councillor Pasternak highlighted that we are all immigrants to Canada, save the Indigenous communities who have been living here for centuries. He acknowledged the deep wounds that have been inflicted on Indigenous communities and highlighted the 8 calls to action for the City of Toronto from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Councillor Pasternak went on to express his hope that Canada would not regress to its questioning of the Muslim community as friend or foe. He stressed the direction of Toronto as a new frontier for opportunities to fit in, to make it so that everyone matters. Quoting Alfred Tennyson, Councillor Pasternak said, “I am a part of all that I have met,” and stressed that we are not richer from who we exclude, but who we include.
The opening ceremony was performed by Traditional Ojibwe Elder, Whabagoon, of Lac Seul Nation. She began with a beautiful song called “Strong Women Song” before performing a Smudging. She explained that she lay tobacco and burned sage for the nations named in the land acknowledgement and for Mother Earth. The attendees were then asked to face all directions, as she opened the space for the evening.
Whabagoon shared her story as a child of the Sixties Scoop, where Indigenous children were taken from their biological families—without the consent of their biological families or their band—before being placed in foster care and adopted out to non-Indigenous families. She is from North of Thunder Bay and explained that her name means “flower blooming in spring.” Whabagoon explained that she was proud of her adoptive parents, a British father and Torontonian mother, and that they tried to the best of their abilities to teach her and her sister of their heritage. Still though, she felt something inside her that she didn’t belong, that her classmates knew her as different—they only knew the stereotypes in the media as “savages” or “uncivilized”. She started on a journey to find her biological family, a father who was a private in the Canadian military had died before she was born and a mother who was a residential school survivor. “I have lost my mom,” she thought upon finding her, “They stole her.” When she was 20, Whabagoon moved to Toronto, and found her people and her culture finally. However she had been raised in a non-Indigenous household and had attended boarding school in England, she felt as those she didn’t fit in with them either. She explained that she had been stuck between the two identities, right in the middle of colonialism.
The Native Canadian Centre in Toronto, though, started her on her path. She received her drum and became a water and land protector. She implored everyone that the water needs our love and attention and prayers as it is very sick now. Whabagoon also asked everyone to remember that “Everybody carries their own drum. Put your hand over your heart.” She explained that this was the drum beat of Mother Earth.
Rabbi Tina Grimberg, gave a moving performance of the story of Abraham with the accompaniment of Aaron Lightstone. Aaron performed beautiful songs and Rabbi Grimberg explained that Abraham was sitting in the opening of his tent when he saw three men walking through the hot desert and implored them to enter his tent, to accept his food and hospitality, without any expectation of return for his services. She explained that home is the place where you under-promise but over-deliver, that the doors of a home should never be closed and we should watch for people who need our help, but with no expectation of a blessing in return.
Spoken word poet Wali Shah, began with a poem to his future son about the ways in which the patriarchy and hyper-masculinity are very damaging to young boys and men. He explained that solid grounding in his faith gave him stability and shared an amusing anecdote of the first time he felt Allah was with him. He hadn’t had a chance to eat that day and came home very hungry and prayed just before he entered his house that there would be food at home. When he asked his mother, she said that there was Dal—not his favourite—but he was thankful that he had something to eat nonetheless. It turned out to be butter chicken though, which he loved.
His second poem, entitled Home, highlighted the incident of his mother having coffee thrown at her out a car window while the occupants yelled “Go home, terrorist.” Wali responded last night saying, “This is home.” He said that he would not judge the small minority of Canadians who held these views, while he hoped that Muslims would not be judged for the actions of a small minority of Muslims. He commented on the difference between America and Canada, and expressed how proud he was to be Canadian during this time. “We need to be patient with each other and listen to other people’s stories,” he finished.
Powerful, inspiring words by spoken word artist @LifeAsWali :”Home is True North Strong and free… Home is place where neighbour catches you in adversity…Home is where we celebrate our diversity” @wihw celebration @DarcheiNoam @IDIGTA @NativeCentre Thx to our sponsors @IIT1630 pic.twitter.com/T7X7234WlM
— IDI (@IDICanada) February 8, 2018
Michael Etherington, Cultural Program Manager at the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, began with the topic of Reconciliation and explained the need for approaching it from a point of view of equality, where Indigenous people are recognized and acknowledged on an equal footing. He stressed that systemic issues don’t define Indigenous peoples and there was an importance of looking to the next 150 years.
Two youth from Indigenize Our Minds then shared their stories, as well as a song and dance performance. Memengwaanh Bell-Trudeau explained that they are the generation that is putting their communities and cultures back together, after the legacy of the residential schools and the Sixties Scoop. Tasunke Pejuta Sugar spoke of being born on a reserve in Pine Ridge, South Dakota before moving to Calgary. He explained that he was fortunate to have been born into and grown up with his cultures and traditions, but that he experienced culture shock for the first time in grade 2 when he moved to Calgary. When he asked to join a game of soccer the other boys asked him where he was from and where his parents were from. He eventually answered that he was Indian, to which another boy replied “No, I’m Indian—from India.” At the time, he explained, he didn’t realize that people wouldn’t know about him and his culture. He stressed that reconciliation starts in the home, with each of us, so that kids in the future won’t have to know how to approach reconciliation.
The closing ceremony was also performed by Whabagoon, with a water ceremony. She explained that she sat and drummed with her water and implored attendants to be more aware of their water and to speak to it. She once again asked the audience to face the four directions while closing the ceremony and blessing their drives home.