The connection between immigrants and Aboriginal people in Canada’s mosaic

December 16, 2015

By Rebeca Kuropatwa, Canadian Immigrant |

Mandela Kuet was 12 years old when he moved Winnipeg in 1989. He was born in South Sudan (now the Republic of South Sudan) and moved to Cairo, Egypt, where he spent most of his childhood prior to coming to Canada.

When he first moved here, his relatives warned him about associating with Aboriginal people, though he settled in a part of Winnipeg where many aboriginals live — the North End.

“When I am going to school and I’m seeing my [aboriginal] friends interact and I go to their house, I see their parents are just trying to make ends meet, but everyone else around me is saying something different,” says Kuet. “And I’m like, that’s not true.”

Fifteen years later, Kuet has found a way to show those with preconceived notions about their aboriginal neighbours that they are struggling with many of the same problems many newcomers are — issues like underemployment, integration and discrimination.

As a youth and family support worker at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM), Kuet reached out to local aboriginal leaders Michael Champlain and Leonard Monkman.

Champlain and Monkman have been running an aboriginal community program called Meet Me at the Bell Tower, held at the bell tower in the North End (at Selkirk and Powers streets) every Friday at 6 p.m. year-round. At these meetings, they lead a ceremonial bell ringing, sing songs and discuss a selected topic. “They started with [talking about] stopping the violence and protecting women and children, and advocating for indigenous rights,” says Kuet.

Kuet felt this would be a great place to make connections between Aboriginal people and newcomers, and, after talking with the organizers, they agreed it would be a fitting venue to connect the two communities.

“Leonard, Michael and me, we all grew up in the north, and I still live in the north end, and they still live in the north. We grew up there and we have the same perspective from the same angle,” says Kuet.

“We’re trying to build that relationship and make sure that community members understand first-hand … [that] these are our neighbours, these are our community members, and help them break down stereotypes from both sides.”

On Aug. 14, the Meet Me at the Bell Tower meeting’s theme was “Newcomers be Welcome, and Kuet attended along with a group of newcomers who live in the north end. The newcomers met with aboriginal elders, young adults and families. About 100 people came to the meeting, though usual attendance is closer to 30 to 40 people.

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