BRIDGES (Building Relationships Interculturally through Dialogue and Growing Engagement)
A groundbreaking partnership between three Saskatchewan provincial non-profit organizations is working to “build bridges of understanding” between two growing, but often marginalized, groups in Saskatchewan: Indigenous and Newcomers.
BRIDGES, an acronym which stands for Building Relationships Interculturally through Dialogue and Growing Engagement, is a three-way partnership between the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan, the Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan (AFCS) and the Saskatchewan Association for Immigrant Settlement and Integration Agency (SAISIA) said Rhonda Rosenberg, Executive Director of the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan.
Besides Rosenberg, the partnership is headed by Brad Bird, a coordinator with AFCS, and Beulah Gana, Director of SAISIA. Made possible by the SaskCulture Multicultural Initiatives Fund, BRIDGES began last spring.
“BRIDGES started with a research phase”, said Rosenberg. ”We worked with Flo Frank of Common Ground Consulting to gather data through literature surveys, interviews and consultations in Prince Albert, Regina, Saskatoon and Yorkton. People are aware of changing demographics and have a great desire to talk about relationships between newcomers and First Nations and Métis people in Saskatchewan,” she said. With recent funding approval from SaskCulture, the project is now in its second phase. It will involve a pilot project in Prince Albert, chosen because of its strong local members, and its critical mass of newcomers and Aboriginal people, Rosenberg said.
“We’ve been hearing about misconceptions between Indigenous communities and newcomers,” Rosenberg continued. “Some of them come from not understanding the effects of colonialism and residential schools on First Nations and Métis individuals and their families and communities,” she said. “Newcomers hear quickly about associations between indigenous people and poverty, crime, gangs, alcoholism, and homelessness and this perpetuates stereotypes,” she said. “Because employment is an issue for some First Nations and Métis people, there can be resentment towards newcomers being supported in jobs even though Saskatchewan’s labour market requires both full resident employment and immigration.” Rosenberg added. BRIDGES seeks to move from seeing each other as problems to seeing neighbours and allies who are part of community planning and problem solving that benefits everyone.
“The concept of BRIDGES has been in the works for a number of years. It is interesting that it came about during the time of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” notes Rosenberg. “When we look at why we created BRIDGES, we can see that this program also supports the Truth and Reconciliation findings and recommendations.”
“What we’re planning to set up as part of phase two in Prince Albert is two series of monthly gatherings,” she said. One will be daytime meetings for staff to come together, and the second will be social and educational gatherings that are open to the community. The idea is that relationships will grow, common interests will be identified, and will translate into some positive action in the community.