recognition, resilience, resolve
May 17, 2021
May is Asian Heritage Month, and this year’s theme is “Recognition, Resilience, and Resolve.”
Vernon is home to hundreds of individuals of Pilipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Pakistani, Chinese, and Korean descent. The city also has a large Indo-Canadian population.
First Sikh Immigrants to Okanagan
The first immigrants from India began arriving in the Okanagan Valley at the turn of the 20th century; three Sikh men arrived in Rutland in 1909, and others followed in 1913.
“Little Evidence of Discrimination”
Most took up jobs in the lumber industry, with plans to eventually return to India. It was not until a few years later that some decided to settle their families permanently in the Valley.
By the 1970s and ‘80s, the East Indian population in Vernon had increased significantly. A 1976 report on the ethnic composition of the Okanagan Valley suggests that Vernon had “little evidence of discrimination.”
And yet, the report also states that “East Indians claim that their members have been beaten by white men for no apparent reason. They are afraid to take part in public events because of bad experiences.”
A 2006 photo of the North Okanagan Sikh Temple and Gurdwara. The temple was built in Vernon by the North Okanagan Sikh Cultural Society in 1987
Traditional Indian clothing for rent or sale for attendees of Bollywood Bang charity event
“We Mainly Kept to Ourselves”
In 1997, a researcher interviewed several Indo-Canadian families living in Vernon, and found that 17 out of 20 of those interviews lived in one high-density neighbourhood, often in duplexes. Some of the reasons the families cited for living there were the lower cost of housing and the proximity to friends.
However, the researcher concluded that this collective housing was also a reaction to feelings of alienation from the larger community.
One interviewee suggested that “people looked at our turbans and the traditional outfits that our women wear with disgust and suspicion. We kept mainly to ourselves.”
Celebrating Indo Canadian Culture
In 2021, the treatment of Vernon’s Indo Canadian population has certainly improved, largely through efforts to introduce Sikhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Indo Canadian culture to a new generation of people through public events like the Diwali Festival.
The wildly popular Bollywood Bang event, spearheaded by Vernon City Councillor, Dalvir Nahal, attracted hundreds of people and contributed thousands of dollars each year to local North Okanagan charity organizations.
In the 2020 provincial election, NDP candidate Harwinder Sandhu faced horrific racism during her Vernon-Monashee MLA campaign, with her signs defaced by swastikas and misogynistic words. Despite this opposition, Ms. Sandu was elected in a clear statement by the majority of Vernon’s citizens against this kind of discrimination.
The resilience and resolve of MLA Sandu, Councillor Dalvir Nahal, Activist Min Sidhu, and the many other Indo-Canadian men and women who have come before them have contributed to Vernon’s recognition of this diverse cultural group, even if work remains yet to be done.