‘You can see it in their faces:’ Common Ground partners building intercultural connections

A toddler looks up from her Métis point painting piece, where artists use a cotton swab dipped in paint to create an image with dots, on Dec. 6, 2019. The activity was part of the Common Ground Project and included multicultural food, crafts and games at YWCA Settlement Services. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Spring rolls, chicken abodo, bannock, dumplings and steam buns: those are just a few of the foods that were at a Prince Albert Common Ground Project event on Friday evening.

The Common Ground Project consists of organizations such as the YWCA, the Multicultural Council, Métis Central and the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre to create a welcoming and inclusive community. Initially, it was created to build relationships between newcomers and Indigenous people.

But coordinator Lemoya Lorensen said “We don’t want to exclude anyone,” so they expanded.

From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at YWCA Settlement Services, partners prepared and served a variety of foods representing the Congo, Philippines, Indonesia, Ukraine and China.

Common Ground Project partners prepared multicultural dishes for their community holiday event at YWCA Settlement Services on Dec. 6, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

Not only did the intercultural gathering leave guests with full bellies, it also provided supplies and direction for traditional arts and crafts, such as Métis point painting and finger weaving bracelets.

Lorensen emphasized the holidays can be a “lonely” and financially-stressful time for many in Prince Albert. She said the gathering was partly meant to provide a meal and a meaningful gift for people to give to their loved ones.

“With people being lonely, one thing that works is art. Whether it’s painting or creating, it helps people to steer away. Art…is a gift. Someone can create a friendship bracelet for a friend or a parent and with people being strapped for money, they have something tangible that they can bring home,” she said.

“It’s therapeutic, it’s a gift and it teaches you a new skill.”

In Métis point painting, the artist uses a cotton swab and paint to create a picture using dots. Some children, however, were simply having fun smearing the paint across the canvas.

At the finger weaving station, several people were making Métis-coloured bracelets. Red represents the blood shed while fighting for rights; blue represents the depth of spirits; green represents the fertility of the nation and white represents the connection to earth and the creator, to name a few.

Guests learn how to finger weave friendship bracelets using Métis coloured materials at YWCA Settlement Services on Dec. 6, 2019. (Jayda Noyes/Daily Herald)

They also had gingerbread cookie and ornament decorating station, where they had prints of designs and symbols from across the world that guests could use.

The Prince Albert Multicultural Council set up a display about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries. There were games that transcend language, such as Pictionary and Connect Four. Additionally, the partners encouraged guests to participate in ‘talking tables,’ where you sit down with a stranger and ask them a list of questions.

“The questions aren’t ‘What’s your background?’ ‘Where are you from?’ ‘What’s your culture?’ It’s ‘What did you want to be when you grew up?’ ‘Who’s your favourite relative?’ ‘Tell us about your best friend.’ Those are the things that tell you about a person more than what country you’re from,” said Lorensen.

She said it’s a rewarding experience to see people bonding over these activities.

“Sometimes people are skeptical when you ask them to meet strangers. People can feel a little vulnerable and when you sit them down, just two people together with a set of questions,” she said. But soon enough, they warm up to each other.

“You can see it in their faces—faces lighting up, they’re gaining a better understanding not just of a new person, but of a new culture.”

The Common Ground Project has held other community events such as an intercultural pow wow, but this is the first time the partners have held a holiday event—which didn’t solely celebrate Christmas.

“There’s Humanitarian Day, Solidarity Day, the International Day of Neutrality and again, there’s Christmas. So in some ways this is a cross cultural event. We are celebrating Christmas, but we’re also celebrating just human beings.”