“Enhancing Inclusivity in Rural Canada” Workshop Report : by MIRRA Network

The Migration in Remote and Rural Areas (MIRRA) Network and the Rural Policy Learning Commons is pleased to have supported the interdisciplinary workshop entitled “Enhancing Inclusivity in Rural Canada,” which was held at the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta on November 1-2, 2018 and involved the participation of 14 scholars from across Canada.  Meeting within the context of both a seeming rise in xenophobic and anti-migrant sentiment across the Western world as well as the recognition that much more work must be done to ensure authentic Reconciliation between settlers and the indigenous peoples of Canada is occurring in rural areas, workshop participants discussed a variety on ongoing research projects that touched on the reality of cultural and religious diversity in rural Canada, with a focus on building more inclusive rural communities.
Specific topics of discussion included “hate group” activity in rural Canada, the role played by both rural schools and rural religious organizations with respect to acknowledging and accepting diversity in rural communities, ongoing work to ensure positive integration for refugees in rural locations, settler – indigenous relations in rural Canada, and the importance of “rural identity” as a factor in both understanding citizen attitudes and addressing issues of racism or intolerance.
Amongst the presentations was “Increasing Empathy and Awareness of Diversity: The Efficacy of Refugee Journeys Board Game Training Tool,” by MIRRA member Michelle Lam, a PhD student at the University of Manitoba.  Ms. Lam noted that diversity is increasing in rural areas as a result of provincial nominee workers, temporary labourers, and private refugee sponsorships.  In this context, her board game, the Refugee Journeys Board Game, meets three critical needs: it provides an educational and empathy-building tool for long-time rural residents to engage with issues related to integration; it provides a platform for newcomers to share their experiences; and it brings together groups of people in a social environment to talk about topics that rarely surface. Initial uses of the board game in a variety of settings have been positive. Ms. Lam noted that next steps for the game include measurements of changes in empathy and awareness, newer graphic design, translation to French, and a website.
The workshop concluded with a commitment by participants to continue working collaboratively on these projects in directions both academic and practical.  Future plans involve a co-authored working paper, an edited volume based on our academic work as well as a more thorough plan to bring aspects of this work into rural communities across the country.  For those who are interested in participating in further work in this vein, feel free to contact Dr. Clark Banack (csbanack@ualberta.ca).

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