Building Inclusive and Caring Communities in Canada with NIOT | Not in Our Town

Building Inclusive and Caring Communities in Canada with NIOT

We have a great deal to learn from Canada about how to build inclusion at the city level. In March, NIOT leader Patrice O’Neill traveled to Calgary and Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo in Alberta to present the Not In Our Town model for community engagement to stop hate and build inclusion, and to learn from cities on the ground who have been creating policies and training to help their communities become more equitable. She writes about her experiences. 

The Equity Initiative, Alberta, Canada

At the beginning of the year, I got a message from Cam Stewart, Education and Engagement Manager of the Alberta Human Rights Commission (AHRC) who wanted to discuss how we could introduce Not In Our Town ideas in local communities there. Alberta is a vast, oil rich province in the beautiful Canadian Rockies that borders on Montana and North Dakota. Cam told me he had been a follower of Not In Our Town for many years, and that a new project he had helped develop building local capacity to promote inclusion created an opportunity for NIOT to engage in Alberta.

Patrice O'Neill talks with Alberta participants about their work in the Coalitions Creating Equity Initiative. 

When I heard about the Coalitions Creating Equity Initiative I jumped at the chance to learn from Cam and the successful actions the HRC is fostering in Alberta. Some background on their Initiative:

“The Coalitions Creating Equity (CCE) initiative is a both a local and province-wide approach to addressing equity, racism, and human rights through community engagement, leadership support and capacity building. The primary focus and objective of this initiative is to build local skills, knowledge and networks that can collectively impact discrimination prevention and increased equality in the province.”

Five communities are supported by the AHRC for this project, and I was able to visit two of them: Calgary and Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo.

In Calgary, I helped lead a community screening of Light in the Darkness, participated in the Municipal Inclusion Summit on March 18/19, and led a Not In Our Town all-day workshop for 70 leaders from 20 cities across the province. 

It was clear from the Municipal Inclusion Summit that many Canadian cities have made it a priority to train their staff and implement policies that promote inclusion and advance immigrant integration. The diversity of Alberta communities may surprise many in the U.S. Canada actively supports refugee communities and has programs in place to help support newcomers.

Doreen Spence, a Cree elder and International Indigenous leader (who is also called Bald Eagle Woman who Leads), opened the screening of Light in the Darkness with reflections and a reminder of the hundreds of indigenous women who have disappeared. 

Although Alberta inclusion policies are more advanced than those in many U.S. cities, NIOT offers on-the-ground tools for engaging community members more deeply in building a culture of diversity of inclusion that could enable effective policy implementation, and help people feel a sense of inclusion in everyday life.

Seventy leaders from across Alberta attended an all day workshop on Not In Our Town practices and tools.


Light in the Darkness Screening and Panel, Fort McMurray

The Mayor of Fort McMurray Don Scott, Indigenous Elder Gilly Alook and Caitlin Downie welcome diverse residents of Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo to a screening of Light in the Darkness. Mayor Scott warned the community about the hate incidents he hears about nearly every day. 

(L-R) Jamal-e-Fatima Rafat (a member of the Muslim community), Sithara Fernando (LGBTQ advocate and member of the Alberta anti-racism council) Caitlin Downie, RACIDE leader and staff of Wood Buffalo Municipality, and Elena Gould (an advocate for Indigenous peoples and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) with NIOT's Patrice O'Neill.


Upstander Workshop, Fort McMurray

On March 21, at a workshop marking the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I joined leaders from the Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo for an upstander workshop on how to speak up about racism for students from seven middle schools.


It was an amazing and wonderful experience getting to know our neighbors to the North, learning about their unique challenges, hearing about their victories, and helping them to build stronger communities using NIOT strategies. 

— Patrice




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