"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Punjabi literary award group gives space to indigenous voices Featured

From left to right; Barj Dhahan and Lynda Gray raise their hands against racism as part of Spice Radio's anti-racism campaign From left to right; Barj Dhahan and Lynda Gray raise their hands against racism as part of Spice Radio's anti-racism campaign

 

Gurpreet Singh  

When the Indian Residential Schools were open in Canada, one of their mandates was to kill aboriginal languages to assimilate the First Nations into the body politic of a Eurocentric nation state environment. The survival or extinction of the languages of indigenous peoples still remains a very sensitive issue.  

But the Vancouver-based Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature has come a long way to celebrate both the Punjabi and the indigenous cultures simultaneously.  

Not only is the organization determined to promote Punjabi in Canada, it has taken upon itself the cause to strengthen reconciliation with the aboriginal communities that are struggling to keep their languages alive.  

Back in 2016, the organization honoured Punjabi author Jarnail Singh, who wrote Kaale Varke (Dark Pages), a fictional account of the impact of the Indian residential school system on indigenous communities.  This year, it has invited an indigenous author of the famous book, First Nations 101, as a keynote speaker for their annual award event in Surrey on Thursday, November 17.  

Lynda Gray is excited to be a part of the initiative.   

As estimated 250,000 indigenous children were forcibly sent to residential schools mostly run by churches, to indoctrinate them into Christianity. Once at these schools, they were forced to give up their own indigenous names and customs. Defiance would often invite punishments. The Canadian government has already apologized for this cultural genocide. Gray’s book becomes handy for anyone who wishes to learn more about First Nations. The second edition of her book with additional chapters came out this year.  

When the first Dhahan Prize ceremony was held at the Museum of Anthropology at UBC in 2014, it opened with a traditional song by Cecilia Point from the Musqueam First Nation.   

Barj Dhahan, the cofounder of the prize, feels that it is important to recognize that we are sitting at unceded lands belonging to the First Nations. 

“Just as indigenous communities are trying to preserve their languages that residential schools tried to erase from their collective memory, Punjabis, too, are struggling to save their language from extinction.” 

 

 

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Gurpreet Singh

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