Canada has a rich history of multiculturalism, and every year at this time we recognize those who celebrate that history and continue to further that goal through the British Columbia Multicultural Awards (BCMAs).
“The British Columbia Multicultural Awards recognize individuals, organizations, and businesses whose exceptional work helps bring our diverse cultures together,” says the announcement from the province last week about the 2015 nomination period. “Multicultural champions are found in communities throughout the province helping promote better understanding between fellow British Columbians.”
Campbell River has both a large immigrant population and a large Aboriginal population, so the issues and struggles surrounding multiculturalism are everyday ones for many of the people of our region.
In 2008, the Campbell River Multicultural and Immigrant Services Society – better known as the Immigrant Welcome Centre – won the “organization” category of the BCMAs for their Youth 4 Diversity program, which was formed by a group of concerned students, parents, teachers and community members to address racism and other forms of discrimination in local schools.
“We are a very multicultural region,” says Jim Brennan, interim executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre. “People from 64 different countries came to see us last year.”
Brennan says that the members of the communities served by his organization experience varying levels of racism and prejudice in their lives, whether in the form of overt racism such as shouted racial slurs or refusal to serve customers of certain backgrounds – which he says are very rare occurrences, but he has heard of it happening – or in more subtle ways like just a general feeling of tension or unease in certain atmospheres.
“We know (these issues) exist,” Brennan says. “Have we seen them throughout our time here? Yes. But have we seen a positive change since we started our work? Absolutely we have.”
He says the key to making a positive difference is having passionate people in organizations that are comfortable being collaborative.
“The community here has been very forthright and progressive in terms of working together as a community – whether that’s us, or North Island College, or the City of Campbell River, or NIEFS, or Family Services or any of the other organizations that provide these types of community services, we all look to each other for support and everybody works together to make a positive difference however we can.”
One of the efforts that has made a difference, Brennan says, was the recent “Mythbusters” initiative, where they set out to debunk some of the myths surrounding immigrants and newcomers and show the community at large the benefits they bring with them in an attempt to neutralize negative stereotypes.
Their “Walk Away from Racism” event each spring here in Campbell River is also going into its 20th year, and is an extremely popular, well-attended event for those who wish to speak out about acceptance and diversity.
For them, it’s about the work and about making progress, not the recognition of doing so.
The deadline for nominations for this years’ BCMAs is 5 p.m. on Sept. 21. The five categories open for nominations are individual, business, organization, youth and “multicultural excellence.”
Winners will receive $5,000 to be donated to a non-profit origination of their choice to further support the work of multiculturalism in the province. All award recipients will take home a trophy and certificate of recognition.
Email Lori Baxter at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 778-840-5182 for more information about the awards and visit immigrantwelcome.ca for more information about the offerings from Campbell River Immigrant Services.