Saturday 14 February 2015

Stories of Integration: Remembering Michele Sereda

Integration is when two or more things, people or groups come together to create something new. When we speak of cultural integration, we’re referring to cultures coming together to form a multicultural society, in which each culture is equally respected, celebrated and encouraged to retain its unique characteristics, customs, values and features.

This past week, a dear friend, Michele Sereda, passed away in a tragic fatal car accident just north of Regina. Well known to the arts community in Saskatchewan and beyond, Michele was someone who loved to learn about, learn from, and integrate with cultures that differed from her own ethno-cultural background.

I remember Michele telling me about an evening Spanish language class that she had been taking. Her excitement for learning a new language was evident in her animated gestures and facial expressions as she talked about the prospect of being able to communicate with a new friend who spoke Spanish. Shortly after Michele enrolled in the course, she traveled to Europe, and asked that I stay at her house to care for her cat, Bruno. As I moved about the house, I discovered random sticky notes posted to objects. There was a sticky note on a plant, the bathroom mirror, the telephone… On each sticky note, she had written the word for the object in Spanish: planta, espejo, telĂ©fono.

Michele had a profound admiration and respect for Indigenous peoples and cultures. She used to say, “Anyone can go out to the reserve. You don’t need an invitation.” I took this to mean that if you cared about bridging Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures, it was up to non-Indigenous people to involve themselves in Indigenous ways of living, to learn about Indigenous traditions and values, and to visit with Indigenous peoples wherever they are.

Photo by Ann Verrall
When Michele tragically passed away, she and three of her colleagues, who also lost their lives in the car accident, Lacy Morin-Desjarlais, Michael Green and Narcisse Blood, were on their way to Piapot First Nation. Michele had been working with Piapot students for five years as part of a drama program called Spirit of the Story and was active at the school in other ways for more than a decade. Global reported that Chief Ira Lavalee “described Sereda as an adoptive family member in their community,” saying that Michele “opened that door, that it is ok to talk about our ceremonies, our own creation stories, our own unique cultural diversity.”

Michele was a wonderful example of someone who practiced cultural integration and demonstrated genuine curiosity and appreciation for diverse cultures, especially the cultures of Canada’s first peoples.

In honour of Michele, we welcome you to share your story of integration in the comments below, or on Twitter, using the hashtag: #WeAreSK. And we offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the fatal car accident outside Regina on the morning of Tuesday, Feb. 10.

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