It is a celebration of solidarity and understanding from one first nation to another. Each year on Aboriginal Day, the Ktunaxa people welcome those who have found refuge in Canada to their traditional territory. This year, many of the Karen refugees from Burma, who now live in Kimberley and Cranbrook, were welcomed, some for the first time.
“Many Ktunaxa folks were interested to hear the history of the Karen people from Burma and to understand how they came to be here living on traditional Ktunaxa territory,” said Shauna Jimenez of Friends of Burma.
Here is what the MC, Carol Alexander said as she lead the welcome of the Karen refugees to traditional territory of the Ktunaxa;
“The Karen people of Burma are an ethnic, first-nation group inside Burma that the Burmese government has been oppressing for 40 years. The Burmese government frequently burns down their villages, destroys their crops, and enslaves these people – women and men.
“Many Karen people flee these attacks and cross the border into Thailand, where they live in refugee camps. Most of the Karen people have been in refugee camps for almost 20 years now.”
East Kootenay Friends of Burma is a group of volunteers in Kimberley, Cranbrook, Creston and Nelson, who sponsor some Karen refugees to this area every year. This means they raise enough funds to cover their first year in Canada and help them settle into the new culture here.
“We believe an important aspect for all newcomers to understand is that they now live upon traditional territory of the Ktunaxa people,” Jimenez said. “EK Friends of Burma hopes to build links with former refugees and Ktunaxa people in building understanding of each other as they are both ethnic first-nations groups that have experienced cultural genocide.
“This link is very important and the EK Friends of Burma would like to thank the Ktunaxa people for welcoming these newcomers as they seek safety on your traditional territory.”
Refugee advocates across Canada, belonging to the Canadian Council for Refugees, realize the importance of providing newcomers with accurate information about First Nation’s territory while building links with First Nations and former refugees, Jimenez said.