Embracing Culture Enriches Community
December 4, 2012 § 2 Comments
I love my job with the City of Grande Prairie, but rarely touch on it here. That’s mainly because this blog is intended to develop content toward an inspirational/motivational book(s) and part of my work-life balance – exploring my creative side.
This time, I’ll make an exception.
Two amazing experiences this past week underline why I love promoting my community and working to make it a better place to live while on the job and as a volunteer.
First my colleague Chelsea Lewis, our Communications and Research Co-ordinator, and I met with the Grande Prairie Centre for Newcomers.
The agency wanted our input on how it can help immigrants get more involved in the community. What a joyful group to connect with – people whose native lands are as diverse as Lebanon, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Mexico, and our own homeland.
We’ve already been working with this organization as part of our Citizen Engagement Program, activateGP. Earlier this fall, we also had the delightful experience of speaking to an English-as-a-second-language combined class through the Council for Lifelong Learning where we encountered a veritable United Nations of students.
Our meeting last week with the Centre for Newcomers was truly inspiring. While we were there to help them assist their clients, a lot of the richness of the discussion was really around how connecting with the traditions from other countries will add a special flavour to our community.
This will be mutually beneficial in a city represented by at least 100 cultures.
We heard about how having celebrations involving music, food and dancing would resonate with people from other parts of the globe.
My favourite part was when the Centre’s employee from Lebanon spoke up and said, “In my homeland, you don’t need music to get us dancing, you just have to start clapping.”
The next day, it was off to the Grande Prairie Aboriginal Circle of Services. We were using this organization as a focus group as part of our research for the Citizen Engagement Program.
Although I have lived near First Nations reserves almost my entire adult life and have worked with various Aboriginal leaders, I’d never participated in a smudging ceremony. It was a first for Chelsea, too.
Smudging is the use of smoke to cleanse the mind and create a positive, peaceful mindset. Various herbs can be used. In this case, it was sage. I chose to accept the smoke so that I could truly share in the learning and reflection of the moment.
I was honoured to connect with members of the Aboriginal community in this manner. How could you not feel at home when you exchange hugs as part of the welcoming ceremonies.
I had the privilege of sitting next to Darlene Cardinal, who led the group in prayer. I learned there is even a right way to hold hands with the people next to you during this ritual.
It was also interesting participating in some of the other Aboriginal traditions during the session. One notable aspect was how a feather was passed around and held by each speaker in the circle.
This demonstrates respect for the person talking at the time.
During the meeting, we had a lot of great dialogue on how the municipality can benefit with a stronger partnership with the Aboriginal community.
Reflecting on the outcome of both sessions left me with an incredible feeling of excitement.
On one hand, I saw how Grande Prairie has much to gain by embracing the traditions of other countries. On the other, we have much to learn from the descendents of peoples who have occupied this land for thousands of years.
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to embrace the cultural fabric of the city as part of promoting citizen engagement. Knowing what makes its people tick will help me do a better job of connecting to all people.
Maybe I’ll be an improved dancer to the music of another nation. On second thought, I’m better off sampling different cuisines!