Welcoming the World to Tumbler Ridge

Trent Ernst, Editor

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong?

Carmen Drapeau has felt like that. She says that one of the most noticeable times was when she went to the Caribbean for vacation. “I felt like a foreigner there,” she says. “It’s a French island, and I speak French, but they humiliated me because I couldn’t speak it the way they did.”

Drapeau says it is experiences like this that which drew her to apply for the position of Welcoming Communities Ambassador for Tumbler Ridge. The program is a joint project between the Government of Canada and the Government of BC, designed to assist newcomers to Canada to get settled into their new communities.

It’s part of the Welcome BC program, and is for people who have been in Canada for ten years or less. Drapeau is one of a number of coordinators across the province. “There are Ambassadors in Vancouver, Dawson Creek…I just found out there’s one in Chetwynd, even.”

The overall objective of the program, says Drapeau, is to improve settlement assistance and access to services for newcomers while they settle into their community, as well as to help make the community better prepared for newcomers. “My job as Tumbler Ridge Welcoming Communities Ambassador is to coordinate these services, and to work with community volunteers, residents, businesses, and organizations.”

Drapeau says the initiative is part of increased awareness around Social Inclusion. “That’s the new buzzword: Social Inclusion. I did a social inclusion program in Alberta that was aimed at the youth. It’s been shown that in communities that are welcoming, people are happier and they are more willing to participate.”

Drapeau says that it is easier and easier for people to move to different parts of the world, and even small towns like Tumbler Ridge are becoming diversified. “People have to be more tolerant of other cultures,” she says. This is something she’s learned from experience. “I’ve lived in places that aren’t welcoming. In that case, it was because I wasn’t part of their religion. Community is supposed to be about community, about togetherness, not about exclusion. A community will only benefits from more diversity.”

In Alberta, she says, the biggest issue was relations between the First Nations and the religious groups there. It was somewhat different, because these weren’t people coming from overseas, but at the same time, it was about people of different cultures, different worldviews learning to be a part of the same community.

As Ambassador, Drapeau’s job is to coordinate and support. “The number one thing I’m doing is to help the newcomers access what they need to access. It’s a lot of the paperwork stuff: how to get your SIN number? I’m a resource people.”

That doesn’t mean that she does the same work as a Service Canada Councillor. Instead, she is there to show people how to find the right forms, talk to the right people. But Drapeau says she’s not planning on stopping there? “Can you imagine not knowing how the bank works? Or how to find stuff at the grocery store? “I’ve talked to Darryl at Shop Easy about doing a tour of the store for newcomers. Depending on where people are from, the food is going to be different, or presented in different ways.”

Drapeau says she can’t imagine living in a homogeneous town. “I think of Vancouver. It’s so multicultural, and that city thrives on that. Can you imagine how boring it would be if everyone was the same. It’s exciting to learn about new culture, new dance, new food.”

Drapeau should know. She got her education at Emily Carr in Vancouver, where nearly every other person in her class came from some other country. “You learn from other cultures. When I was in art school, I had a friend from Korea, and I learned so much about colour from her. You grow as a person, and it adds to your experience. You don’t have to go to China to learn about their culture if there are Chinese people here.”

To those ends, she is looking to connect newcomers with people who have lived here (either in Tumbler Ridge or even just Canada). “We need people to be friends, buddies, mentors to these newcomers. I know there are people who have already done this, who will take people under their wing. We’re Canadians, that’s who we are. We’re going to work on connecting immigrants with people who already live here, and with activities. There’s great stuff already happening, and I want to connect people to that: WNMS, the library, things like that.”

This is not, she says, in any way connected to the HD Mining issue. “This has nothing to do with current political issues. It’s more about helping people integrate. There are customs here, and we don’t recognize the differences because we live here.”

In addition to helping people new to the country, she is also hoping to help people in Tumbler Ridge learn how to be more welcoming. “I want to do workshops for non-immigrants as well, do the Superhost, or Worldhost program here. Whether it’s people who have moved here or tourists, knowing how to relate, how to help is something that is very beneficial. It’s good for business if people are coming to buy stuff from local businesses.”

She says she is available to meet with newcomers to assist them at the Seniors Corner and at the library in the recreation centre.

The first workshop will be held in June.