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Indo-Canadians launch association

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 11/4/2018 6:30 PM

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Eastman Indo-Canadian Cultural Society governing members Komal Mahant, Mitesh Kumar, and Nikita Pandya are seen with Pandya’s children, Dev and Riya, beneath the flags of Canada and India at the offices of Eastman Immigrant Services in Steinbach.

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Eastman Indo-Canadian Cultural Society governing members Komal Mahant, Mitesh Kumar, and Nikita Pandya are seen with Pandya’s children, Dev and Riya, beneath the flags of Canada and India at the offices of Eastman Immigrant Services in Steinbach.

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Southeast residents who hail from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have banded together to launch their very own ethno-cultural association.

The Eastman Indo-Canadian Cultural Society (EICCS) formed in August and held its first event, a Hindu Navratri festival dance and potluck, last month, said interim president Mitesh Kumar, a licensed immigration consultant and recent city council candidate.

Kumar explained the association’s goal is simple: to fill up the gaps between cultures with friendship.

"Culture can connect us to each other," he said.

Three dozen members have already joined, some of whom have waited six to 10 years for something like this to emerge in Steinbach, Kumar said.

In an effort to build bridges, the group has created a special "guest member" designation for any resident of the Southeast interested in learning more about the rich cultural traditions of the Indian subcontinent.

While knocking on a stranger’s door can be difficult, Kumar said he hopes the group’s events will foster a low-key environment where neighbours from different backgrounds can meet and get to know one another.

With a basic constitution already drafted, Kumar is currently working with other executive members to formally register the group as a non-profit.

He hopes the group can also help reduce culture shock and answer newcomers’ "general day-to-day life questions related to the region."

"They’ll have people here who can support them in their language," he noted. "People will be more comfortable here when they know that there is an organization here to support them."

The emergence of EICCS points to the South Asian community’s increasing comfort in settling outside Winnipeg. It used to be that immigrants would quickly strike out for larger centres, Kumar said, but many now feel comfortable living in Manitoba’s small cities and towns.

"If we keep promoting this, then we can get more people coming here and living, and that would be also good for the city to have more residents," he said.

One factor encouraging rural settlement is Manitoba’s provincial nominee program, now in its 20th year.

Kumar explained an immigrant can garner additional points if they settle outside of Winnipeg, which in turn benefits their spot in the application stream.

Small cities like Steinbach also offer more economical living costs, though Kumar noted one challenge that remains is the lack of Sikh and Hindu temples outside of Winnipeg.

Ethnic origin data from the 2016 census suggests Steinbach’s South Asian community is growing, with 170 city residents reporting East Indian, Pakistani, or Punjabi heritage.

Local South Asian immigrants tend to be families or young adults, Kumar said.

While Filipinos accounted for 72 percent of Asian immigration to Steinbach between 2011 and 2016, India was the second most common country of origin.

Josie Fast, program director at Eastman Immigrant Services, said the emergence of another ethno-cultural association benefits everyone.

"As these groups are organizing themselves, we’re seeing people being connected to their own ethno-cultural groups, but they’re also extending invitations into the broader community."

The associations also offer practical, culturally-specific support for newcomers, Fast said.

"It’s really an important piece of settling in a new community, because…you don’t feel so alone. You know that there are people who’ve gone before you who understand your language, your culture, and some of the things that you might need."

Kumar agreed, and said preliminary discussions are underway to create an umbrella cultural organization that could speak with a unified voice on behalf of the 1,875 Steinbach residents who aren’t Canadian citizens.

He hoped such an organization could help with everything from cross-cultural dialogue to recreation ideas to rental space bookings.

In the meantime, EICCS is gearing up to mark Diwali, a Hindu festival of lights, on Nov. 7.

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