You couldn’t take them home with you, but the stories of participants in a unique event should last long in the memory.
To celebrate National Francophonie Week and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Historica-Dominion Institute recently held a human library event at the Centre culturel franco-manitobain in St. Boniface.
The event brought together speakers from two of the organization’s flagship initiatives: the Passages to Canada Speakers’ Bureau — where volunteers from a diverse range of ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds share stories about their heritage with schools and community groups — and the Memory Project Speakers’ Bureau — which brings together veterans and serving Canadian Forces Personnel to share their experiences.
During the event, a number of speakers — including RCAF pilot Maj. Karl-Hans Désilets, navy medic Dorothy Butler, harmonica master Gérald Laroche and Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) — sat around tables and shared their experiences with community members.
Among the featured speakers was Melvin Swan — an Ojibwa warrior and Canadian Forces veteran who faced racial discrimination while serving, which lead him to launch and win a landmark human rights case against the military. Despite suffering a recent stroke, Swan continues to advocate for cross-cultural awareness and mentor aboriginal youth.
"I’ve really enjoyed sharing how things should be in this country. I’m proud to be patriotic and I love this land and its people," said Swan, who lives in West Broadway, during the two-hour event, which had also run earlier in the day to a group of Vincent Massey Collegiate students.
"I won a landmark human rights case, and I also went to a residential school, and I’m proud to talk about my life as a warrior and my connection to my traditional culture and share it with our youth. You’ve seen with the Idle No More movement that people want something to believe in."
Another guest speaker was student, actor and musician Lacina Dembélé, who immigrated to Canada from a war-torn Ivory Coast as a child and spoke in both English and French at the event.
"I came to Canada at the age of four and when I came here I spoke my native tribal language. At first, adapting to the Canadian culture as a kid was tough, as I felt I was in an environment where people didn’t understand me," said Dembélé, who lives with his father — who has since remarried a Ukrainian woman — in Island Lakes.
"Now, I enjoy doing many things including music and theatre and I hope one day to become a neurological researcher."
Maria Rogalski, a St. Vital resident who attended the event with her husband, Hans, said the experience demonstrated Canada’s all-encompassing culture.
‘It’s exciting to hear Lacina’s story. Canada is an awesome country because it’s a melting pot of all cultures," she said.
"In terms of my own story, when I came to Canada it was the first time in my life that I felt truly accepted for who I am. Because of the equality here, you can be anyone you want to be."
For more information about the organization, visit www.historica-dominion.ca.