When I was 15, an Aryan Nations chapter opened near Caroline, Alberta. The chapter sent me a letter saying I was an abomination. They accused me of corrupting a white Christian bloodline, simply because my father is East Asian and my mother is white. In response, my high school teacher and I wrote a letter to the students of Chestermere High School, challenging white supremacy and racism.
I know what racism looks like, sounds like and feels like. I also know racism exists in Alberta. I have fought against it my entire life.
But I’ve also seen progress towards a more inclusive Alberta, thanks to the hard work of people and communities to foster welcoming spaces and to share their cultural heritage.
Martin Luther King Jr. said that hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. In this spirit, I choose to share the benefits of diversity, to amplify the voices of those who have experienced discrimination, and elevate the work done by individuals and organizations across this province.
I believe that through the lens of multiculturalism we can begin conversations that will play a large part in combating racism. Racism is partially fuelled by a lack of understanding and fear of change. One important piece of this puzzle is bringing people together to share their stories, build relationships and promote diversity.
I thank my colleagues for their passion for ending racism in Alberta. We can all agree that finger-pointing and name-calling are not going to accomplish anything. We need to find solutions and we need to work together.
I believe that as elected officials on both sides of the house we all have the same goal: a province in which all people are treated equally, where no one has to fear for their life, and where anyone can pursue their dreams and faith freely.
Tens of thousands of Albertans have flooded the streets to honour and recognize the memory of those who have been beaten or killed because of racism. As elected officials, we owe it to the people we serve to rise above political differences and turn the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as calls to address racism against Indigenous peoples, into lasting change in our institutions.
I believe people want to see their voices reflected in the leadership of this province. However, if we focus on negativity, we will fail. We must be united in challenging instances of racism and elevating the work of those fighting against it.
I will look to my colleagues in government to root out any racism in our health care, justice and education systems. I will continue to work with Albertans from different cultures and ethnicities so our actions across government can be guided by their lived experiences.
This is not the end nor the beginning of this fight. This is another step in a long march to making the world a more just and equitable place. We commit to this work in honour of those who fought bravely in the face of prejudice and violence, in remembrance of those whose lives were stolen, for our children and our children’s children.
Alberta is Alberta because of the beautiful tapestry woven together by the incredible diversity in our province that celebrates the colour, culture, pageantry, food, traditions and families of those who have paved the way for the rest of us to follow. Our story should not be defined by those who tried to hold us back, but by our decision to fight back through love, education and compassion.
This is a call for all of us to decide what we want our legacy to be. I want mine to be a better, safer, more welcoming province for all, and I hope that all Albertans, regardless of political stripe or background, will join me in building this future.
Leela Aheer served as Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women from April 30, 2019 to July 7, 2021.