Welcome to Our Homelands – Fostering dialogue between Indigenous peoples and newcomers

The Immigrant Services Society of B.C. (ISSofBC) is celebrating five decades of community engagement this year. And, in order to provide newcomers with tools to learn more about Canada’s First Peoples, IssofBC developed in 2020 a seven-minute video called Welcome to our Homelands as well as a study guide with Kamala Todd, writer, director and editor.

“ISSofBC thought it is very important to introduce First Nation culture to newcomers,” says Chris Friesen, chief operating officer of ISSofBC. “Most immigrants coming to Canada will eventually be Canadian citizens. From a tangible perspective, increasing the awareness will create greater understanding of what the Indigenous people had in this country. It would also make newcomers understand the background of the country that they want to settle in.”

The video and study guide are geared to introduce viewers – especially newcomers – to Indigenous people’s values and views, providing helpful information, links and terminology. The translation of the resources, the organization believes, will make the crucial information more accessible to a wider range of newcomers in British Columbia.

“Working very closely with an Indigenous filmmaker, our community appreciated and had a greater understanding not only of the historical background but also the tremendous diversity. As an organization with a Canadian-born producer, these materials and people gave me the opportunity to deeply reflect on my role in this society,” says Friesen.

Launching their next phase of the resources last December, ISSofBC included translations into Spanish, Farsi, Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Punjabi as part of their commitment to increase newcomer education and awareness on Truth and Reconciliation.

A necessary lesson in history

When asked about the importance of reaching out to newcomers, Friesen says that Canada, unlike other countries, relies on immigration as part of the country’s economic growth both pre and post pandemic.

“Permanent Resident seekers don’t understand the Indigenous experience and their history, which is absolutely normal because they’ve never taught back in their countries.… For their adaptation process and for a better Canadian community, it is in everyone’s interest to introduce them to the First Peoples of Canada and their culture,” he says.

Friesen is happy about the public response to the multilingual video, adding that the material is also being used for other purposes.

“[The video] also has been used for certain universities – UBC – for teacher training, or in companies to adapt employees,” he says.

When asked if the migration experience that immigrants go through helps them to better understand Indigenous communities’ problems better than Canada-born citizens, Friesen answers by an affirmative.

“It does, because many immigrants, particularly refugees, who are settled in Canada have also experienced displacement and abuse [or] torture, so bringing refugees with Indigenous people would create a better understanding by sharing both their experiences and how they dealt with the situations,” he says.

Community support

Developing the project was smooth sailing for the association, says Freisen.

“Fortunately, we are a blessed organization supported by the Canadian community, government and [other] organizations. Vancity Credit Union provided us with the fund for this project. We are also fortunate after some challenges to reach out to some Indigenous filmmakers and artists to contribute to the video projects. Having Indigenous people working towards this project was very meaningful,” he adds.

Working hand-in-hand with First Nations was also somewhat revelatory for Friesen, and he was grateful for their willingness and participation.

“[The Indigenous societies] really saw the importance of this project and the cruciality of reaching out to newcomers. They were very excited and ready to help in any way,” he says.

For more information please visit: www.issbc.org/blog/welcome-to-our-homelands-multilingual-resources