ATTENDING each other’s events, learning about each other’s experiences, standing up for each other — these are some of the things Muslim and Indigenous women in Manitoba can do to support each other.
That was the message from a webinar titled "Muslim and Indigenous Women Leaders: In Spirit of Reconciliation" on Thursday.
The webinar, sponsored by the Islamic Social Services Association, featured panellists from the Muslim and Indigenous communities, who talked about how they can work together to deal with common issues faced by both groups.
Panellist Rabia Khedr, who directs a non-profit that serves Muslims with disabilities in the Toronto area, noted how much women from the two communities have in common.
Both Muslim and Indigenous women "face marginalization," she said, adding many Muslim women in Canada have come from countries where they experienced oppression and trauma, and were forced from their homes or lost their culture.
In Canada, women from both communities have also faced discrimination, she said.
"There are lots of conversations we can have to create a country where everyone feels they belong," she said.
Diane Redsky, executive director of Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata, a Winnipeg organization that serves Indigenous families, agreed Muslim and Indigenous women have "unique perspectives and common experiences" to share.
This includes how they "understand colonization from a practical level in our communities in the past and today."
Problems can "look super big, and we don’t know where to start," she said, but if Muslim and Indigenous women "reach out and start a conversation" then "powerful things can happen."
Nahanni Fontaine, NDP MLA for St. Johns, said women are the "anchors" of Muslim and Indigenous communities, despite having experienced gender-based violence.
"We are intimately bound on that issue," she said, adding when she sees Muslim women at vigils for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, "it touches my spirit, it makes me so happy."
Noting that no Muslim woman has been elected to the Manitoba legislature, she stressed the importance of Muslim women running for government office.
"I hope one day we can see Muslim women elected to the legislature," she said.
Iqra Khalid, a Liberal member of Parliament in Ontario, said if Muslim and Indigenous women work together they can be "very powerful."
"There is a huge role for partnership to address the issues facing us," she said, adding "we should be allies in each other’s causes."
Shahina Siddiqui of the Islamic association hosted the panel. She recalled how, as she grew up in Pakistan, her parents sent her to a Roman Catholic convent school where she was not allowed to speak her own language.
Before she came to Canada, she only knew about Indigenous people from movies, she said.
Once, when asked by an Indigenous man why she was so interested in reconciliation since Muslims weren’t responsible for the historical oppression of Indigenous people, she told him, "When I took an oath of citizenship to Canada I inherited the good, the bad and the ugly," she said.
Today, she added, "I can’t sleep knowing my Indigenous family is suffering."
Muslim and Indigenous women have much traditional wisdom to share, she added. "We need to reach out, person to person, to break the barriers and biases inside of us."
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.