More than 150 people attended a community dialogue Wednesday aimed at gathering ideas on how the region can build stronger responses to racism and create a more tolerant community.
The community forum is the first of several planned over the next year and is part of the response to a letter perceived to be racist toward First Nations that was published May 27 in the Nanaimo Daily News.
The letter, for which the paper apologized for publishing, prompted an immediate outcry from the public. More than 200 people protested outside the Daily News’s office the day after it was published and the protest made international news.
In April, local business leaders, politicians and First Nations representatives gathered at Vancouver Island University to discuss how the city can move forward to address racism and a committee was struck to work on the issue.
Wednesday’s dialogue, called From Racism to Reconciliation: Visions of Nanaimo’s Future, was the first in a series of forums in which the public will be invited to participate.
Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Douglas White III said about 20 people spoke at the event, some sharing personal experiences with racism; others thoughts on what to do to address the problem.
“We’re going to be working to implement the different ideas,” he said.
One of the themes that emerged from the evening’s discussions was the important role of the education system in helping to build a tolerant society, said White.
He said people also talked about how this issue is something that everyone has a personal responsibility to tackle.
“This is something individual Canadians need to work on,” said White.
Jamie Brennan, Nanaimo school board chairman and a member of the working group, said the district needs to ensure the education system models respect and understanding.
“We need to ensure kids leave the school system with the belief that different cultures should be valued,” he said. “I took away from that meeting a feeling of greater responsibility on our part as school trustees to ensure our school system is a model of respect and tolerance.”
Brennan said school officials want to use more courses taught from a First Nations perspective in secondary schools.