Two men selected to be partners in an art project bringing together Indigenous people and newcomers say they found a connection while shaping their work.

“I’m very grateful to have this opportunity to share my story, and it was my brother who got me into this,” said Aaron McKay.

“I will also say that Aaron is a brother,” said Izzeddin Hawamda.

“I am honoured to work alongside Aaron McKay and to learn from his wisdom.”

McKay and Hawamda are part of the WhereWeStand project, a multimedia storytelling collaboration bringing together Indigenous people and newcomers to co-create expressions of identity on the colonial construct of Canada. Fourteen artists in all participated, creating film, art installations, spoken word and multimedia works.

The project is set to premiere this weekend in Halifax and Brantford, Ont.

McKay is Anishinaabe from Rolling River First Nation and lives in Minnedosa, Man., while Hawamda is Palestinian and lives in Winnipeg.

The pair say they share feelings of displacement and a loss of ownership of their own stories. Their project “We are here, but we are also there” aims to capture that narrative.

“We’re trying to find ways to tell the world and remind the world that we are not just numbers, we are humans and we have families and we have faces,” said Hawamda.

Hawamda and McKay’s project includes film, spoken word and a healing song. Hawamda, who came to Canada nearly 18 years ago, said he often heard negative stereotypes of Indigenous people but said after learning from them he sees their beauty and recognizes their shared struggles.

Images of Palestine and lands near Rolling River First Nation
Aaron McKay and Izzeddin Hawamda’s project explores themes of finding home when displaced, and rediscovering culture and the land. (submitted by Aaron McKay)

He said storytelling is powerful to remind others of their humanity and complexities.

“Sometimes my country is not even on the map or it’s referred to as occupied territories or occupied Palestinian territories and in doing so it has always been part of who I am to try to explain to people I am beyond occupation. I am not just occupied,” said Hawamda.

Hawamda said his story explores how he feels as Palestinian on colonized lands in Canada and the responsibilities he shares. He also wrote a land acknowledgement in Arabic.

McKay said his story explores finding home in a colonized homeland and reconnecting through culture, language and the land.

“We want to bring people together through storytelling. There’s so much power in that,” said McKay.

An Indigenous woman on a deer hide surrounded by cultural items like ash baskets and moccasins
Part of Deyowidron’t Morrow’s art installation. (Thru the Red Door)

Deyowidron’t Morrow, a Cayuga artist from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ont., said her piece is an art installation centred around her personal journey of self reflection.

She said the project was important to her because she could “inspire people that are new to this country to see this land the way we see it.”

“It could be such a beautiful thing,” said Morrow.

A man with glasses and a beard.
Cyrus Sundar Singh, a co-director for the program, says when he first immigrated to Canada from India when he was 10, he had questions and WhereWeStand is creating spaces to ask those questions. (CERC in Migration and Integration)

Cyrus Sundar Singh, a research fellow in migration and integration at Toronto Metropolitan University, and filmmaker Nicole Lee are leaders on the project and helped facilitate the discussions and mentor the participants.

Singh said these spaces are important to encourage connections.

“It’s to open a door, crack a window, to say ‘Let’s have lunch,” said Singh. 

“This is a place to begin.”

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