Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Annie Ohana was the department head of Surrey Schools. The Runner regrets the error.
From speakers and activists to performers showcasing their talent and culture, the Multicultural Peace Festival returned to Surrey’s Bell Performing Arts Centre on Oct. 1, after a two-year hiatus due to pandemic restrictions.
Organized by the non-profit Global Peace Alliance BC Society, the festival is held annually for the International Day of Peace and follows the United Nations’ theme for that year, which this year is “End racism, Build peace.”
Melinda Bige, chair of Indigenous studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, was a keynote speaker at the festival and discussed the intersections of truth and reconciliation and anti-racist action toward peace.
Her presentation “The Why of Genocide, and How to Restore the Balance” focused on governance practice, the background of genocide to Indigenous Peoples in Canada, where reconciliation is now, and what people can do to help after learning.
“And then also wider solutions to rebalancing what’s happened and what’s occurred so that we can heal as a people, but holistically across the globe as well as the land,” Bige says in a follow-up interview with The Runner.
Bige says she got involved with the festival when her friend Annie Ohana, the Indigenous department head at L.A. Matheson Secondary School, reached out to see if she would be interested in being a speaker after she made some posts on Facebook about the United Nations Genocide Committee and the Pope’s visit in the summer.
“Indigenous communities have a governance structure that is just as complex as Western governance,” Bige said at the event.
“One of the most simple ways to engage in Indigenous governance is by introducing yourself…. Who is your family, what are your ancestors, and where do they come from?”
During her presentation, she said that for reconciliation to happen, Canadians must first hear the truth about Canadian history and acknowledge it. Then, make reparation like giving back resources such as land and water, and give Indigenous communities money that was made off of what was stolen from them.
“I wanted to give lots of evidence to what I’m speaking about because I know for a long time, people who use Canada as a part of their core identity, have created a narrative that is really hard to debunk because people feel so strongly about it,” she says.
In addition to Bige’s presentation, there was a panel discussion about ending racism and building peace with experts and activists, performances from artists like the Sudnya Dance Academy, and the Art4Peace exhibit, which showcases people’s work through written or visual art by showing the theme of peace and kindness.
Before creating the festival in 2016, President of the Global Peace Alliance BC Society Niovi Patsicakis says a few years after the organization was formed in 2013, they wanted to create an event that reflected their goals and spread the message of peace.
“It’s important that when we talk about peace, very often it’s something [people think] that’s not real, it’s not realistic, because the world has always gone through strife and wars. And sometimes people feel hopeless that we can’t get there,” Patsicakis says.
“It’s really important not to lose that hope. We can work together.”
Patsicakis says she hopes people take away from the festival that peace is attainable and people can get involved in making that change and learn a lot from the presentations and performances.
Bige says she hopes people learned about Canada’s true history through the presentation.
“If it’s their first time encountering the truth, [I hope] that they are able to unpack it, and [for] people who have already started to walk into truth, I hope that it solidifies their walk, and that’s my goal.”