SASKATOON — At a public event held on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination March 21, a multifaith panel of speakers in Saskatoon spoke about the need to combat hate and racism.
Hosted by the Islamic Association of Saskatchewan at the Saskatoon Islamic Centre, the event began with dinner, followed by prayer, before a panel of community and faith leaders spoke on the theme “hate is too great a burden,” introduced by MC and moderator Edward Morgan.
Saskatoon City Councillor Cynthia Block brought greetings from the city, and described growing up in a rural setting, and gradually becoming aware of the diversity of faith, people and culture in the world, remarking, “When you get to know people, the barriers fall down.”
Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN), noted that his organization had recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saskatchewan School Boards Association. “We are now embarking on a journey of true reconciliation, of treaty education and treaty awareness.” Education, health, housing, land, water, and resources are all tied to treaty rights, Cameron said, stressing the importance of focusing on youth and education.
“One thing that is universal right across the world, and in Saskatoon, is our little ones, our children. We want them to have the best quality of life. We want them to succeed. We want them to build themselves into positive human beings, positive adults, build on the skills and tools that we provide as parents and grandparents.”
Racism definitely does exist in Saskatoon and the province of Saskatchewan, said Cameron, applauding community leaders like the mayor of Elbow, Sask., and the council and mayor of Regina who have signed agreements with the FSIN, pledging to work toward eliminating it.
“The city of Saskatoon has also done a tremendous job in the past couple of years, giving an example to Canada and the rest of the world,” he added.
Dr. Niranjan Venugopal, representing the Sathya Sai Baba Centre of Saskatoon, reflected on incidents in his own life that have revealed to him the extent and reality of racism. He shared the five values of his community: truth, right action, peace, love, and non-violence.
“It is so important that we have positive thoughts, and that we follow them with positive words and with positive actions,” Venugopal said. “We have to change the way we think.”
Dr. Jaswant Singh, representing the Sikh Society of Saskatchewan, said that he makes the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination a day of personal reflection. “Rather than thinking about what other people are doing, it is a day of internal reflection, a day to look into my heart, to think about what action I am taking.”
He shared his experiences as a member of a visible minority in Canada. “Being here for such a long time, I can see that the war is not yet won, but we have taken steps in a positive direction.”
In addition to personal discrimination, he added, there is systemic discrimination, and it is important that every person feel like they belong in the community: “Many times we lose that sense of belonging when we get unspoken words of discrimination.”
Singh spoke about gender inequalities in families, homes and cultures as another kind of discrimination. He concluded: “It is good deeds that matter, not what religion you have, not what colour you are. So on this day, my internal reflection is, I would say no to racism, but I would also say yes to good deeds and goodwill.”
Bishop Mark Hagemoen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon shared insights and reflections from the Catholic tradition: “If sin is the lack of the good that should be present in a person or any created thing, then hate is the lack of the peace, the unity, the harmony, the love, the community, the trust, the relationship that should be a part of our lives.”
Hate may seem to give a heightened sense of energy and power, but it soon reveals itself to be a destructive, illusionary power that breaks down and extinguishes. “It leaves its possessor and those around him or her demeaned, depleted, and even destroyed.”
The bishop described his experience of being in a prayer and sharing circle with indigenous students at Oskayak high school the Monday after the acquittal of Gerald Stanley in the shooting death of Colten Boushie. The purpose of the assembly was to ensure that students felt safe, cared for, loved and supported at a difficult time, and also to address any concerns they might have from the explosion of grief and emotion following the verdict.
The Dene people of the North, where Hagemoen served as bishop for four years, say that healing is not a one-time thing, but an ongoing journey, he added.
“May we continue to heal as a people, as a nation, as a world, as we deal with the problem of hate and all its repercussions,” he said. “And it is in living healing that we will find our way through the problem of hate, to the deeper meaning and mystery of love and relationship.”
Dr. Kumar Balachandran of the Hindu Society of Saskatchewan shared a personal experience of witnessing an incident in which an angry couple verbally abused a newcomer who was mopping the floor in a crowded gym. Eventually someone came forward to help the man. In the midst of this disturbing incident while the couple in question were spewing racial slurs, Balachandran said, he saw nothing but love and compassion in the faces of the other people in the gym.
“We all want to be on the side of love and compassion and purification; we don’t want to be on the side of division, hatred and bigotry,” Balachandran said.
Actions that will help along this path include acquiring a greater knowledge of one’s own tradition and those of others; being a self-critic in order to achieve purification; praying that others will receive the light they need; and “realizing that special loyalty that is aroused by one’s own religion or culture does not warrant feelings of superiority.”
Imam Ilyas Sidyot of the Islamic Association shared teachings from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad rejecting hatred and racism. He noted that in the Islamic faith community in Saskatoon there are some 40 - 60 nationalities worshipping under one roof at any given time.
“We will continue to work in this community, among the people of the beautiful city of Saskatoon,” he said. “We will work with all people, of any faith, or no faith, people of all creeds or colours.”
Chris Sicotte, chair of the city of Saskatoon’s Cultural Diversity and Race Relations Committee, concluded the evening by emphasizing the need to face racism and hatred head-on. “The challenges are great,” he said, citing the ongoing fallout of recent court cases in the deaths of indigenous young people. “Our youth are afraid.”
However, it is crucial to remain hopeful, and to commit to having difficult conversations, and changing hearts, minds, and toxic racist behaviour.
“We are working toward developing those conversations,” he said, adding, “I’m not doing it for me, but for my grandson, and for the generations after him.”
Rev. Colin Clay provided the closing prayer.