It was the summer of 1993, and the Peace Bus 93, currently on a Canada-wide journey, had stopped for the evening at the Totem Hall. The bus carried many youths, and so Squamish Nation community leaders Donna Billy and Gwen Harry put out the call to several faith groups, asking for assistance in feeding the town’s guests. The Baha’i and Sikh community responded, and the result was an evening of diverse cuisine and sharing; the first Squamish Multicultural day.
Since that evening 12 years ago, the event has grown considerably in size and popularity. Mina Dickinson of the Baha’i Community reflected on the growth, “We cooked Persian rice on that night, and I’ve been making Persian rice every year since. We’ve been continuing with our participation, and we never let go. The event has grown to host 400 people, and these are all people who come themselves, no shuttle or anything.”
With this year’s July 1 festivities coinciding with an especially significant Canada Day, however, preparations are being made to host a much larger event than before. This year will see shuttles running from downtown to Totem Hall.
At around 1 p.m. Mayor Patricia Heintzman will be ferried down the Mamquam River on Squamish Nation canoes towards Totem Hall. There, she and accompanying chiefs will speak to the congregation.
“That is the oldest reserve” Donna Billy explained to The Chief. “It’s almost 500 to 600 years old. Ferrying a leader on canoes across it is exactly how it would have been done in past eras. Everybody is celebrating Canada’s 150 in their own way, and this is ours.”
For Billy, this year’s event carries a special personal significance. “We shouldn’t have to worry about bullying and racism today, but we still see that in our schools. Being First Nation in elementary school was hard, being called names and being kept down. Now, we want the youth for the minority groups to get along, eating singing and dancing together. It’s their Canada as well. Everybody can get along here,” she said.
Dickinson too, shared her personal motivations for celebrating this day. “I was a refugee when I came to Canada 33 years ago. Now with the refugee crisis, we have to be even more conscious that what we as human beings can do to serve others. We must show love and compassion towards each other. We Baha’i believe in the teaching that we are all flowers in one orchard. Unity, equality and community service are a part of both our belief and the values of multiculturalism,” she said.
The Sikh community will be showcasing Dhol drumming and Bhangra dancing. “We live in peaceful ways and express our views publicly; we do not believe in discrimination on basis of caste, creed or colour. We work hard and share our joys and sorrows with our fellow Canadian nations. We are proud to engage in this diverse Canadian society,” said Sikh community member Avtar Gidda.
Billy expressed her excitement for the coming event, and shared her aspirations for the future.
“I’d like the community to know they’re all welcome. It doesn’t matter what regalia you wear. People might think it’s about religion, but it’s not that. We’re just sharing and opening our eyes out to the community. It’s so fascinating to see the outfits, food, music and dances of our neighbours. You’re never too old to learn,” she said.