Seven days and 5500 km to spread Ahmadiyyat’s message to First Nation peoples in Canada

Kalim Ahmed, Media Coordinator, Imarat Calgary, Canada
Canada Tours

In the fulfilment of the desire of our beloved Imam, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa to make contacts in the smaller communities and with the First Nation peoples, Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya Calgary has been actively reaching out to the extreme Northern Canadian communities in Alberta, British Columbia and Northwest Territories since 2008. By the grace of Allah, this has resulted in numerous blessings of Allah the Almighty and several friendships and contacts have been developed in First Nation communities with their Chiefs and Elders.

During the last two years, due to the Covid-19 pandemic situation, there has been a gap in in-person interaction, instead, a couple of virtual events were organised in 2020, which proved to be very beneficial.

As the pandemic restrictions eased in 2022, Calgary Jamaat resumed its efforts to strengthen its ties of friendship with Canadian First Nations based on mutual respect and understanding and extending Islam’s peaceful message. As a result, a two-member delegation consisting of Basheerul Islam Sahib and my humble self was sent to visit these areas in preparation for the Annual Interfaith Events to be held in September 2022 and to reach out to new communities to establish contacts.

This team embarked on a seven-day-5500 km long journey from 4-10 August. During this travel, it has witnessed numerous signs of Allah’s help and support and was able to reach out to five new towns and villages and develop several new contacts and friendships.

Due to high inflation rates and the extraordinary cost of travel by air, the team took up this journey by road and stayed overnight in camping mode.

Grande Prairie, AB

The first stop of the team was this major northern Alberta city. The team visited the City Hall to meet the mayor and councillors, but due to conflict in schedules, the in-person meetings could not take place. A gift package containing a few introductory books on Islam Ahmadiyyat and some souvenirs was left for the mayor of the town.

The team had a cordial meeting with Dr Duff Crerar, who is a retired Lecturer of History at Northwestern Polytechnic, Grande Prairie. He has been a supporter of the World Religions Conference and has moderated the events in the past. He is fully motivated to support the 7th Annual World Religions Conference in Grande Prairie to be held at Northwestern Polytechnic and will provide all logistic support to help connect with other local scholars from various local religious and First Nation groups.

Fairview, AB

The next stop of the delegation was a small northern Alberta town of about 3000 population. Even though there was no prior meeting requested, the mayor of the town, Gordon MacLeod, took time from his busy schedule to welcome the travelling team. The team briefly introduced the purpose of the visit and presented a gift package to the mayor and his wife and invited them to visit the Baitun Nur Mosque in Calgary at a time of their convenience.

Peace River AB

Continuing its travel, the team’s next stop was the town of Peace River. Calgary Jamaat has developed contacts in this town since 2009 and has held events since then.

The team was welcomed at the Town Hall by councillor Marc Boychuk. A cordial meeting was held at his office, in which councillor Boychuk assured all possible support for the 7th Annual World Religions Conference, from the Peace River Town Council. He also accepted the invitation on behalf of the town council to visit Baitun Nur Mosque, during the Alberta Municipalities Convention.

Councillor Boychuk offered the visiting team to connect with Isaac Laboucan-Avirom, Chief of Woodland Cree First Nation, located 80km from Peace River. He was presented with a copy of the Holy Quran along with other introductory literature on Islam Ahmadiyyat. 

Afterwards, the team met with the Jamaat’s long-time friends, former Councillor Wanda Laurin, and Chaplain Herman Friesen. Wanda is a well-respected person in the town and has been a supporter of the World Religions Conference in Peace River since its inception. She assured us to support the event and engage other community leaders as well.

Ms Wanda also offered to connect Jamaat with local school boards to deliver introductory presentations on Islam to the students and staff.

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Fort Smith, NT

The next day, the team travelled to Fort Smith, at the extreme Southeastern edge of the Northwest Territories. This town is the gateway to the famous Wood Buffalo National Park and is home to two First Nations groups namely, Salt River First Nation and Smith’s Landing First Nation. Although we had visited the town earlier but were not able to develop contacts. This time by the grace of Allah, despite being there on a weekend, the team was able to make contacts with several prominent personalities including former Chief of Salt River First Nation, Henry Beaver and his wife Eileen Beaver.

Henry and Eileen Beaver are respected Elders who’ve written many books and starred in a film called Three Feathers. They are eager to share their knowledge of language, culture and spiritual practices. The team had an introduction with them on the sidelines of the Enterprise Gateway Jamboree 2022.

Similarly, another valuable contact was made with the current Chief of Salt River First Nation, David Poitras. He met with the team on a couple of occasions during the tour. While in Fort Smith, the team also had the pleasure of meeting with Mr Peter Martselos, a prominent member of the community. Peter’s wife Frieda Martselos is a member of the NWT Legislature. He was very helpful in connecting with other prominent citizens in Fort Smith.

Fort Resolution, NT

Fort Resolution is a hamlet of 500 population on the Southern shores of Great Slave Lake, at the end of Highway-6. It is the headquarters of the Deninu Kųę First Nation. The team visited here for the very first time and did not have any prior connection in the community. Being a very small community, and on a weekend day, moreover, all the businesses were closed due to a power breakdown, no community leader could be contacted. After trying its luck in the community, the team was able to meet a group of Kayakers who had just returned from a 30-day long expedition of the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. They were introduced to the Jamaat and the purpose of this visit. They were presented with some books which they happily accepted.

After not getting the desired breakthrough, the team left the community and found an isolated place on the shoreline to call the azan and offer prayers. Soon after finishing the prayer, a vehicle was seen approaching with two local ladies riding in it. When the purpose of our arrival was shared with the ladies, they happily offered to connect us with the local Chief and called him from their own cellphone. This proved to be miraculous support through which a good introduction with Chief Louis Balsillie (Buffalo) was made. He was not in the community at that moment but promised to meet us in person at another time. 

Enterprise, NT

Enterprise is a hamlet with a population of 80 residents, most of them seniors. Enterprise is at an important junction of the Mackenzie Highway and the road to Hay River. The team arrived here during a festival attended by hundreds of participants from across the Northwest Territories. This provided an excellent opportunity to connect with some prominent community leaders. One of them was Ms Amy Mercredi, President of the Seniors Society. She was introduced to the objective of the visit and can be helpful in organising events for seniors in the community.

Town of Hag River, NT

Hay River is a town of 3000 people, located on the Southern shores of Great Slave Lake, at the mouth of the Hay River. Jamaat Calgary developed contacts in this important town of Northwest Territories in 2016 and has been holding events in the town and the nearby First Nation reserve since then. The Jamaat enjoys cordial relations with the top leadership in the town and the reserve. The team spend the day at the town meeting with various community and church leaders.

The former Chief of Katlodeeche First Nation, Roy Fabian is a good friend of the Jamaat and has attended the Western Canadian Jalsa Salana in the past. During Covid-19 when his wife got seriously sick due to infection, he requested Huzooraa for prayers. Huzooraa graciously prayed for his wife’s health and wrote a letter. He met with the visiting team over breakfast. Various topics of mutual interest, including the upcoming conference in September 2022, the recent papal visit, and the elections in the KFN Reserve came under discussion. This meeting lasted for over 90 minutes. On this occasion, the team also had the opportunity to meet with Chief David Poitras of the Salt River First Nation, Fort Smith and Shirley Lamalice, councillor at KFN.

Next, the team paid a courtesy call to the mayor of the town, Kandis Jameson. The Jamaat enjoys cordial relations with the mayor, and she’s been a constant proponent of the World Religions Conference. This meeting lasted for over 75 minutes in which the Jamaat expressed its concern over the recent flooding in which the whole town and reserve had to be evacuated. Mayor Kandis shared the details of the losses caused by this unprecedented catastrophe.

Later in the day the team met with various church leaders and conveyed to them the message of peace and mutual respect. The team also accomplished some logistic tasks including visiting possible venues to hold the event.

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Yellowknife, NT

Yellowknife is the capital city of Northwest Territories with a population of 20,000 people. It is located on the Northern shore of Great Slave Lake, only 400km South of the Arctic Circle. Jamaat Calgary has been visiting here since 2008 and by the grace of Allah has developed long-lasting friendships with prominent leaders of all walks of life. A few important meetings held during this visit are described below.

Roy Erasmus, a former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories, and a lawyer is a long-time friend of Jamaat. He has attended the Western Canadian Jalsa Salana in the past. He is a big supporter of the World Religions Conference. The team met with him over dinner and discussed various matters of mutual interest in an informal atmosphere.

Felix Lockhart is an elder and former chief of the Łutsel K’e Dene First Nation for 17 years. He is a good friend of the Jamaat and has attended the Western Canadian Jalsa Salana in the past. He met the team over breakfast and shared his thoughts on various matters including the recent papal visit. He agreed to present the Aboriginal Spiritual perspective at the upcoming World Religions Conference.

The team visited the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre to meet the administration and finalise the arrangements at the auditorium. The auditorium was closed for public events for the last couple of years during the pandemic and is still unavailable due to staff shortage. The administration has made a special exception for the conference citing that the event aligns with the mandate of the organisation to promote education and community spirit.

Later the team paid a courtesy call on the Most Rev Jon Hansen, Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Mackenzie-Fort Smith. The Jamaat enjoys cordial relations with Bishop Jon Hansen and his predecessor Bishop Mark Hagemoen. Both have presented at the conference in the past. In the informal meeting at his office, various matters of mutual interest were discussed including the Pope’s recent visit and reconciliation with First Nations. The bishop’s staff requested copies of the Holy Quran and prayer mats for the inmates of the local correctional facility.

Paul Andrew, an Elder, former Chief of Tulita, and a former broadcaster at CBC North for 25 years, has been a close friend of the Jamaat. He has presented at the conference multiple times and has been instrumental in connecting with several other prominent community leaders. The team had an informal sitting with him at a local café. The matters discussed included the belief of Jamaat-e-Ahmadiyya in the power of prayer and many similarities between the moral teachings of aboriginal spirituality and Islam. The meeting continued for over an hour.

Coverage on CBC North

The host of CBC North’s prime-time radio show “Trail’s End” invited the visiting team as guests to talk about the upcoming 14th Annual World Religions Conference at Yellowknife. Lawrence Nayally is a reputable broadcaster, and his show is listened to all across the North. The team was able to share the historical background, objectives and successes of the conference through this prestigious live show. 

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Corner of the Earth – End of Ingraham Trail

Yellowknife is located at the end of the Mackenzie/Yellowknife highway. A smaller highway 4, also known as Ingraham Trail starts from Yellowknife further in the Northeast direction. This highway comes to an end after 70km with a stop sign at Tibbitt Lake. This signifies the symbolic and literal end of the terrestrial connections. To mark the arrival of the team at this “corner of the earth”, azan was called and Maghrib and Isha prayers were offered here.

Fort Nelson, BC

On the way back, the team made a stop at Fort Nelson, one of the Northernmost towns of BC. The team met the staff and members of the Fort Nelson Aboriginal Friendship Society. The delegation extended the message of peace, universal brotherhood and mutual respect and spent over half an hour in an informal discussion with them. Some gifts and introductory literature were shared with them and contact information was exchanged.

The team also paid a visit to the headquarters of Northern Rockies Regional Municipality. The Mayor, Gary Foster who was not present in his office, very kindly came over to greet the team and extended a warm welcome. During the brief meeting with the mayor, he expressed his desire to hold similar interfaith events in Fort Nelson as well.

Dawson Creek, BC

The last stop of the tour was the town of Dawson Creek, BC. Dawson Creek is a city of 13000 population in Northeastern British Columbia, close to the Alberta-BC border. Jamaat Calgary has been visiting here since 2011 and has developed good partnerships with local groups. During the recent visit, the team met with friends in Northern Lights College and explored the opportunities of further expanding collaboration with the college. It has also visited a few appropriate venues to move the World Religions Conference to the college campus. The team felt the enormous potential for growth in tabligh and outreach activities at this location.

The team visited the mayor’s office and shared gifts of the Holy Quran and other Jamaat literature with the mayor’s staff. Later the team had a meeting with the media and church leaders to discuss the upcoming event in September 2022.

After spending 6 nights and 7 days, driving 5500 km, and witnessing countless blessings and Allah’s help, the team arrived safely in Calgary on Wednesday evening. May Allah accept these humble efforts and produce long-lasting results.

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