Important conversations between cultures about culture and diversity
- NC Raine | February 22, 2023
Elder and Professor Willie Ermine is hoping to spark conversations about marginalization in our contemporary society. Only, he wants the discourse to take on a different and more forward-thinking tone.
“We keep re-hashing our victimization. If this discourse continues – that we’re always people that need help, that need healing, that need recovery – then that’s not a very good place for us to be in. We should shine our better angles, our better side of life,” Ermine told Eagle Feather News.
This was one of the key points Ermine shared at the 2023 “Threads: Cultural Conversations” virtual conference, held this January by the Saskatoon Open Door Society. Ermine was one of the five keynote speakers, and 55 speakers in total, to share their wisdom on culture, diversity, and building a better global community.
“I want people to stop and reflect. In broader society, it’s all skyscrapers and shopping malls and busy cities, this whole idea of what society is about, and somewhere in there, we’ve become forgotten people,” said Ermine. “We have an important place. Not as victimized people but people who can articulate their knowledge. We have so many gifts and treasures to offer our communities. We need to stop this marginalization.”
Ermine, who is from Sturgeon Lake First Nation and was an assistant professor with the First Nations University of Canada, is no stranger to asking bold, philosophical questions. One of his queries to those at “Threads:” what happens after healing?
“Everyone is telling us we have to heal and recover, but what do we do after we heal? What’s the grand purpose of all this?,” said Ermine.
“We’ve haven’t really sunk our fingers into all those treasures in all our Indigenous nations. We have them but were made to forget about them. We need to look to a new paradigm for us to get beyond victimization and really sink into the riches because there’s so much there.”
This was one of the many messages of communal growth and understanding at “Threads.” The conference, now in its third year, was held on Jan. 25 and 26, and attended virtually by a reported 1,229 individuals in locations spanning the globe, including across Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and North America.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Perception,” explains one of the conference organizers, Anita Ogurlu.
“How we perceive each other, how we are taught, or learn through institutions, who we consider a friend, a foe – often these perceptions or judgments are made erroneously, so our idea (with “Threads”) is to question our assumptions and explore how we all perceive things in many different ways,” said Ogurlu, the cultural bridging facilitator at Open Door Society.
The conference had no shortage of diverse perspectives, with the other four keynotes alongside Ermine being: Grammy-nominated, Hong Kong-born composer Christopher Tin; Somalia-born Canadian Minister of Housing, Diversity, and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen; Canadian actor and Canada’s Consul General in Los Angeles Zaib Shaikh; and former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia Dr. Maryann Francis – the second African Canadian to be named Lieutenant Governor in Canada.
“At this conference, we try to avoid silos. This is not an academic conference, it’s not a settlement conference that has its own set of buzzwords that are pertinent to a sector of settlement, and it’s not an Indigenous conference,” said Ogurlu.
“It’s a mixture of all those. We want Indigenous, non-Indigenous, newcomers, everyone. We are trying to weave us together as diverse people, sharing this time and space in history together.”
Since its beginnings three years ago, “Threads” has been about discussing complicated issues in our society, but focusing on the hopeful and the positive rather than the misconceptions and the problems.
“We try to give a hopeful message to model how we can be now and in the future. We’re trying to create positive race relations. Anti-racism sometimes recreates racism because we’re talking about all the bad things we’re doing to one another,” said Ogurlu.
“So, we’re trying to shine on one another, to show what might become when we open our hearts and minds and learn from one another.”