Small march carries universal message

International Day to End Racial Discrimination

Some Canadians suffer the sting of racism daily while others experience hatred and ignorance indirectly through behaviour, attitudes, media and graffiti.

Both sides of the story were expressed among 70 people who took part Wednesday in an annual march marking the International Day to End Racial Discrimination in Kamloops.

All agreed that such events help to keep the issue where it ought to be - in the public eye.

"I'm native American and for me, personally, I have to deal with racial discrimination every day," said Janet Quaw of the Cheslatta Carrier First Nation.

That can take the form of an offhand remark or an expression of common stereotypes about Aboriginal people. Rather than developing a thicker skin, Quaw has found she's grown more emotionally sensitive to racism as she matures. It can bring her to tears.

"We're still treated like second-class citizens," she added. "It is hard and challenging, but I get through it."

Drawing attention to racism, the aim of the march, shines a light on attitudes that often simmer just below the surface in Canadian society.

Surrounded by marchers, each of whom carried a different national flag, Quaw offered a traditional native prayer in honour of Secwepemc territory.

"You don't want Thailand?" one mother said to her young daughter, of her flag choice. "I love Thailand."

"We found Iran! That's great," said another marcher, an Iranian immigrant, to his young son. Then he set about ensuring someone had the Maple Leaf to lead the procession. That was Don Reid, joining the march for his first time.

"I think it's important," he said. "We're getting more and more multicultural in Kamloops, especially with international students at TRU. I think it's really important we show tolerance to other cultures and races."

Greater awareness has helped to reduce racism but there will always be a small percentage of people who are racist, he added.

A group of students from TRU's school of human services took part. Shaylin Davidson felt a lot of racism in Kamloops goes unnoticed.

"Many don't realize how it affects people in society … but I think things are improving," Davidson said, noting the election of President Barack Obama. "It also gets overlooked because people don't realize it's a big deal. Rallies like this help to open people's eyes."

Were it not for enrolment in human services, she probably wouldn't have participated, either.

"I just feel a lot of people don't stand up for others."

Paul Lagace of Kamloops Immigrant Services, which organizes the annual event, directed the group down Victoria Street to offices at First Avenue.

"In Canada, we do acknowledge differences but we also believe in creating similarities," he said.

A diversity workshop, including participants from rural communities, preceded the march.

Lagace hopes the anti-racism event will grow as it shifts to the North Shore. Kamloops Immigrant Services moves this summer to newly acquired offices at 448 Tranquille Rd. The move is not expected to interrupt services.

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