January 21, 2016 – Over 100 people enthusiastically embraced an intensive all-day, community-building working session dedicated to creating a vision for Richmond’s future.
At the end of the day, all of the participants agreed with the comment, “This is hard work. It is not built into our culture to tackle these issues as citizens – it is going to be a lot of work.”
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF) in partnership with the City of Richmond, the Richmond Intercultural Advisory Committee, Richmond Multicultural Community Services, and Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, organized the symposium, which is part of a series that the CRRF is hosting across Canada.
Peter MacLeod, an expert in public engagement and deliberative democracy, and co-founder and principal of MASS LBP, a public consultation firm, is the lead facilitator for the Living Together symposia series. MacLeod’s perspective is that “It’s incumbent on all of us to be leaders in our communities.”
Robert Daum, Diversity and Innovation Fellow, Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Dialogue, moderated the opening panel. Métis writer Joanne Arnott, journalist Elaine Chau, educator Kanwal Singh Neel, and historian Henry Yu discussed settlement from a historical and contemporary perspective, including cultural tensions and conflict, and the challenges that are unique to the lower mainland.
The theme of dialogue ran throughout the day. Facilitator, knowledge-keeper and Musqueam community member, Shane Point, said, “The best thing about this is the conversation. The conversation is clear and articulate and open.”
The majority of the day was dedicated to roundtable discussions and working groups. A participant summed up the day by saying, “We all want to talk about these issues and make it better for everyone. More than 100 people put in over eight hours of really hard work, mentally taxing work, and I am really grateful for that.”
Although Chinese-language only signage in Richmond has been in the news recently, the group explored the issue of language in the broader context of dialogue.
“We must come together to have an honest open conversation and have dialogue,” stressed one participant. Another person built on this, “Dialogue is key. The door is open to citizens to get together. There’s no limit to the solutions we can bring together.”
There was, however, agreement that language is a challenge. One participant questioned, “How can you even start that dialogue if you can’t have the dialogue?” Another person raised the issue that “It is hard to find opportunities to learn English in Richmond.”
Groups worked on ten topics that were identified as key to creating social cohesion in Richmond: adapting public services, diversifying leadership, economic issues, environment, experience and contribution of newcomers, faith, health, intercultural awareness, language, and reconciliation.
Action plans included one group who were committed to addressing healthcare issues by establishing a coalition of citizens and working with community and government to create a model in Richmond that is designed by citizens.
People were also interested in the arts as a way to make connections across language and culture. An arts advocate said, “I am encouraged that other people also view the arts as powerful, and offering a non-verbal way to jump-start dialogue."
Participants shared the view that individual and collective community action is key: “We think the government will take care of it or someone will take care of these issues, but I’m realizing we all must be involved.”
“We ask for change: who will change? We do know one thing, that we have the power to change one thing: that is ourselves, our thinking pattern, what we do.”
“We must wake up to the reality of our differences and embrace them.”
Canadian Race Relations Foundation Executive Director Anita Bromberg encouraged participants to follow through on their plans. She quoted a recent survey finding, “One in four Canadians say they are willing to leave Canada and live somewhere else, so we have work to do.”
Living Together Richmond is a series of symposia, organized in partnership with regional and community representatives. It is an initiative of Our Canada: Exploring Canadian values through culture, faith and identity, a CRRF project that runs until March 2017.
Click here to view the program.
150 Stories shared at Living Together Richmond: