Islamophobia and the Canadian Art of Forgetting: Links

Kanishka Project and the Air India Bombing

About Project Funded through the Kanishka Project (Public Safety Canada)

Will Flight PS752 victims be remembered differently than those killed in the Air India bombing? (The Conversation Canada)

A tale of two tragedies: How Canada’s treatment of the Iran plane crash stands in stark contrast to 1985’s Air India bombing (Toronto Star)

Heritage Front: White Supremacist Movement in the 90s

Remembering RaHoWa violence: Ottawa’s own Charlottesville (CBC)

Echoing Charlottesville – Ottawa’s own neo-Nazi riot (Ottawa Citizen)

Front Man: Interview with CSIS Spy who became leader in the Heritage Front (The Walrus)

Right Wing Extremism in Canada Now

Recognizing the Dangers of Right-wing Extremism | Barbara Perry | TEDxCalgary

Broadening our Understanding of Anti-Authority Movements in Canada (TSAS)

Canada Is Spending $300K On Research Into Far-Right Extremism (VICE)

White nationalism and right-wing extremism aren’t new to Canada (CBC)

Over 50 bullets fired in shooting that left Edmonton police officer dead (Edmonton Journal)

Daniel Gallant: Personal Story of Former Canadian White Supremacist (Extreme Dialogue, funded via Kanishka Project)

Recent Islamophobic Violence in Toronto

Masjid in Toronto Threatened with a “Christchurch All Over Again” (NCCM)

Call For Action on Dismantling White Supremacist Organizations: Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (NCCM)

Recent Deaths in Canada (particularly Ontario) Involving Police

Most Canadians killed in police encounters since 2000 had mental health or substance abuse issues (CBC)

What we know about the last 100 people shot and killed by police in Canada (2017 to 2020) (CTV News)

What the Flip is going on with Police in Peel Region?

‘You can feel the pain’: families of those killed by police support each other (City News)

Ejaz Choudry (South Asian, living with a mental illness, Mississauga, Peel Region, 2020)

How the death of Mississauga man Ejaz Choudry helped spark a provincewide conversation about police reform (Toronto Star)

D’Andre Campbell (Black, living with a mental illness, Brampton, Peel Region, 2020)

D’Andre Campbell fatally shot by police in Brampton home after calling for help, family says (Global News)

Jamal Francique (Black, Brampton, 2020)

Vigil held in honour of Mississauga man who died after being shot by Peel police (CBC)

Greg Ritchie (Indigenous, living with a mental illness, January 2019, Ottawa)

Indigenous groups lead spirit walk for man killed by Ottawa police (CTV News)

Abdirahman Abdi (Black, living with a mental illness, Ottawa, 2016)

Ontario’s ombudsman calls death of Ottawa man after arrest ‘tragic’ (CBC)

A full picture of Abdirahman Abdi’s final moments has finally been painted (Ottawa Citizen)

Abdirahman Abdi death anniversary spotlights Black Lives Matter awakening (CBC)

 

Fighting Islamophobia 101: Notes

“Rebecca”: “Help me understand where you are coming from. Canada was built by colonialism. Some of the benefits I am sure are reasons you fled your country of origin. So what I don’t understand is why you would want to rage against a system to try to make it like the country’s system that caused you to flee? Freedom of speech is important for our democracy to work. Islam isn’t a race it is an ideology that we both know doesn’t fit with the western values. I guess you could help me understand why you don’t return to your country of origin and rage for change there? Canadians have fought wars for our democracy to which you have benefited, so yes a little gratitude would be expected. We have shared our way of life and you want to change the very things that brought you here. It doesn’t make sense. Would you be aloud to say what you’ve said in your country of origin? Would you’re children be safe in your country of origin? Would you even allow your daughter to date a Canadian? I think you should be asking the mosque in nz why they would support isis and call out all that do. That would help bring trust to your religion and therefore safety. It isn’t a race thing.” Source

How Do We Fight Islamophobia?

Step 1: Understand It

Step 2: Unlearn It Ourselves

Step 3: Support those targeted by it, with priority given to the most vulnerable

Step 4: Engage with those who perpetrate it, using “calling in” whenever safe and realistic (ya, I know it’s a systemic thing but you gotta start somewhere…)

Let’s Try to Understand Islamophobia…

Ontario Human Rights Commission Definition:

Islamophobia can be described as stereotypes, bias or acts of hostility towards individual Muslims or followers of Islam in general. In addition to individual acts of intolerance and racial profiling, Islamophobia leads to viewing Muslims as a greater security threat on an institutional, systemic and societal level.”

My attempt at a definition:

Islamophobia is a form of discrimination that involves religion, race, and ideas of citizenship and national boundaries, impacting Muslims and those perceived as Muslims.

Islamophobia involves racism as it often targets racialized Muslims as well as racialized people perceived to be Muslims and can sometimes argue that there is something INNATELY Violent, Aggressive, Backwards and “Uncivilized” about Muslims because of their perceived race.

Islamophobia involves xenophobia as Muslims are framed as “foreigners” or “invaders” who have no legitimate claim to belonging as citizens of a nation-state.

But first and foremost, Islamophobia is about discrimination against people who are perceived to believe in Islam, which, as Islam is perceived as a rival to Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or secular ways of life, its followers are perceived as inherently threatening to what is framed as the “normal” way of life of those who are not Muslims. In some cases, Islam is not even seen as a sincerely held faith but as instead a political ideology whose followers only POSE as followers of a faith in order to manipulate people into granting them rights and accommodations.

Muslims are perceived as being a monolithic community, making one Muslim interchangeable with another, responsible and answerable for the actions of another, with no recognition of diversity of thought, debates, or individual opinion among Muslims about religion, politics, human rights, etc.

Islamophobia is a global phenomenon that is connected to dissatisfaction with government policies of immigration, perceived and real economic and social instability, concerns about national security, and the perceived lack of concern about the lives of “authentic” citizens of the nation-state by their governments.

Some manifestations of Islamophobia are routed in lived or “imported” trauma. People who have had real experiences of discrimination or persecution by Muslims justified in the name of Islam within their families or in Muslim majority countries, may project this trauma onto Muslims who have no direct connection to these experiences.

It is important to keep in mind that Canada is home to many refugees who have fled persecution in Muslim majority countries because of their religion, political beliefs, gender or sexual orientation. These manifestations of Islamophobia need to be addressed with a focus on understanding, empathy,  “calling in” and if possible reconciliation.

The more vulnerable you are, the more you may be a target for Islamophobic attacks.

Islamophobia is often amplified when it intersects with wearing hijab or niqab, socio-economic marginalization, anti-Black racism, and other forms of marginalization.

Often in attempts to challenge Islamophobia, Muslims and non-Muslims further marginalized the most vulnerable within Muslim communities.

According to American researcher Namira Islam, “…the narrative campaigns that are launched in response to Islamophobia fixate around “Muslims who are just like you”, i.e., the typical American non-Muslim. This still allows space for narratives—and, thus, policies—that alienate and target the Muslims who are not like the typical American non-Muslim, i.e., those Muslims who are “too religiously conservative” or fail to meet another standard about who deserves protection from discrimination. This often includes Muslims who speak accented or broken English, Muslims who are low-income, and/or Muslims who have a criminal background. Thus, when narrative campaigns predominantly feature middle to upper class Muslims who are from white collar professions or are involved in law enforcement or national security work, larger issues of class, xenophobia, and our broken systems of immigration and mass incarceration play a role in leaving certain Muslims vulnerable to Islamophobia.”

“A father recently wanted his children removed from a Toronto music class, citing religious reasons. The school did its best to accommodate the father’s requests by offering alternatives to his children such as not playing instruments and writing a paper on Islam’s long history of religious-inspired music. But those compromises were rejected. Accommodation has to be a two-way street for it to work. To continually reject a reasonable compromise is also a form of extremism.

If a parent feels this strongly about an issue, they have two options: find a religious private school or home school. But to ask a public institution to create an environment that is micro-managed to appeal to every minute religious request is unreasonable. If you take the anti-music logic to the extreme, how can that parent buy groceries in stores where music is playing, eat in a restaurant or even go up an elevator in which many non-Muslims could get behind a music ban for the sake of some peace and quiet?

The school board offered reasonable solutions and a middle way, which was very Muslim of them, but they were rejected. So if you’re going to be extreme in your response, then typically what happens is that people find enclaves to live their lives separately with their own set of rules. The most infamous example of this is the community of Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., where a sect of Christians believe that polygamy and child marriage is part of its belief system. Because these practices contravene the Canadian Criminal Code, the community has opted to separate itself from the larger majority to minimize their dealings with law enforcement. Muslims have chosen to not live in separate enclaves.” Source

Canadian academic Shelina Kassam, in her thesis on “The Acceptable Muslim” in Canadian discourse, particularly media, notes that often only ONE RACE of Muslim is seen as “Acceptable” in Canadian public discourse. “Against the backdrop of the white gaze, it is significant that the four Canadian Acceptable Muslim figures are all of South Asian descent. In fact, in my analysis of data from Canadian media (Chapter 3), it is clear that the Muslim body is often positioned as a brown body (i.e. South Asian or Arab). In my data sample, there are no identifiable Acceptable Arab Muslims, at least not in English-language media discourses (there may well be in French language media discourses, but this is beyond the scope of the current project). I suggest that Arab Muslims, while consistently present in media discourses (see my analysis in chapter 3), are usually represented as inassimilable, embodying immutable characteristics of extremism or so-called primitive cultural/religious traditions. Arab Muslims are depicted in Canadian media discourse either as angry men, violence in their tainted blood or as oppressed women, who require rescue. In either case, Arab Muslims are not often positioned in Canadian media discourse as Acceptable Muslims. Further, also noticeably absent from Canadian media discourses are Black Muslims, despite their actual numbers and presence (e.g. Somali Muslims in Toronto). Indeed, Canadian discourse is noticeably silent about the Black Muslim body, whether the Muslim Other or the Acceptable Muslim. As I observe earlier, narratives about Blackness in Canada revolve around absence, erasure, displacement or ‘from elsewhere’, narratives which place them (erroneously and fictively) outside the boundaries of the nation. In the contemporary context, Black bodies are often coded in Canadian public and media discourse as ‘problems’, bodies that are 335 read as requiring the force of state systemic violence. The absence of Acceptable Black Muslims reinforces the ideological representations of Blackness: contemporary Black bodies are coded as violent and dangerous (and hence, subject to state violence and forcible repression). On the other hand, brown bodies are coded as either marginally acceptable or excluded (and hence, to be surveilled, regulated or rescued from their primitive existences). In this context, acceptability (and conditional inclusion) coalesces on South Asian Muslim bodies, who, according to the Canadian narrative, are more likely to hold acceptable (read: white-identified or white-favouring) perspectives than are Black bodies. (p. 347)

Black Muslims in Canada experience “Anti-Black Islamophobia”, a term coined by Burundian Muslim Canadian academic Delice Mugabo to describe the reality that Black Muslims in Canada face discrimination from Muslims because of their Blackness and from non-Muslims for being Black and Muslim. As Dr. Fatimah Best states in “Black Muslims in Canada: A Systemic Review, “Mugabo’s term provides a theoretical framework that amplifies the specific kinds of racism and discrimination experienced by Black Muslims and individuals who are perceived to be Black and Muslim; it also describes how Black Muslims become erased from dominant narratives about Muslim identity by non-Black Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”

My Story

Black

Social Assistance Recipient

Kimberly Rogers

“While racial profiling and sexual harassment may have grabbed the public spotlight, being poor and living on assistance is more likely to elicit hostility and prejudice than race, skin colour or gender — although being Muslim is marginally worse for this.

According to an Ontario Human Rights Commission survey released Friday, one in five Ontarians have negative feelings against those on social assistance, surpassing their unfavourable views against all other groups, except Muslims, who were disliked by 21 per cent of the respondents.

“People on social assistance tend to map out against the (human rights) code grounds . . . racialized, Indigenous, people with disabilities, single parent. What this data shows us is that even stripping that away, there is a unique form of discrimination that poor people face,” Chief Commissioner Renu Mandhane said.” Source

Mental Illness

Document and Research Islamophobia, particularly as experienced by vulnerable communities:

Prioritize consultations exploring the experiences of Islamophobia of Muslims who are/experience:

Hijabi or Niqabi

Recipients of social assistance

Housing insecurity (shelters, low-income housing, renters)

Food insecurity

Job Seekers

Living with a mental illness or addiction

Refugee claimants

Immigration Detention

Not speaking the official languages

Speaking Accented English/French

Pedestrians

Users of public transit

Empower Communities with the Means to Support Themselves

We need to prioritize supporting Muslims themselves over “outreach” to Non-Muslims

Flip the Script: Disrupt Islamophobic Discources among Muslims and non-Muslims

Create Spaces for genuine engagement and dialogue between ORDINARY Muslims and ORDINARY non-Muslims

Find ways to share the stories of ordinary Muslims over op-eds by the same Muslim voices over and over again

Find ways to share the stories of Muslims whose work causes them to interact, sometimes intimately, with non-Muslims ie tax drivers, bus drivers, food service workers, child-care providers, early childhood educators, personal support workers, social service workers, nurses….

Address Concerns about applications of Sharia Law in Canada and in Muslim majority countries with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about Treatment of Religious Minorities in Muslim Majority Countries with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about the Treatment of Ex-Muslims with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about Homophobia and Transphobia with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Address Concerns about Muslim Political Movements with REAL STORIES of REAL PEOPLE

Fighting Islamophobia 101: Videos

Thank you for attending Fighting Islamophobia 101

Here are some videos to check out to help you keep adding more NUANCE

Websites to Check Out

MuslimLink.ca: Canada’s Online Hub

Muslim Girl

MVSLIM

The Muslim Vibe

The Sisters Project

Web Series

Slate: Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?

AlJazeera: Secret Life of Muslims Season 1

AlJazeera: Secret Life of Muslims Season 2

Black and Muslim in Britain Season 1

Black and Muslim in Britain Season 2

Azeeza for Women Show (Canada)

Muslim Religious Practices

Festivals of Faiths: Islamic Daily Prayer | Ingrid Mattson (34:49 min)

AlJazeera: What’s Hajj Like? A Comedian Goes To Mecca (2:40 min)

AlJazeera: Fasting For The First Time For Ramadan (9:19 min)

Slate: Why Ramadan Is More Profound in America Than Anywhere Else (5:22 min)

African American Ramadan in Brooklyn (9:53 min)

AhlulBayt TV: Ashura in London – A Non-Muslim’s Experience (53:44 min)

Inside Britain’s Biggest Mosque run by Ahmadiyya Muslims (44:56 min)

Koran by Heart (HBO, Purchase on YouTube)

The Light in Her Eyes (Filmed in Syria, Purchase on YouTube)

Unmosqued (United States, Purchase online HERE)

National Film Board of Canada: Me and the Mosque by Zarqa Nawaz 

Violence Against Muslims

Your Last Walk In The Mosque (Canada, Purchase online HERE)

I Am Rohingya: A Genocide in Four Acts (Canada, Purchase online HERE)

For Nabra Sulaiman by Sura Mallouh (Canada, Watch online HERE)

Muslim Women’s Experiences

Hijabi Monologues: I’m Tired by Sahar Ullah

Zainab Salbi Project: Fearless Muslims in Minnesota

BuzzFeed: Embarrassing Hijab Stories (4:56 min)

Guardian: I feel so guilty’: Muslim women discuss removing their hijab at work (5:18 min)

AlJazeera: Ayana Ife This Project Runway Finalist Is Making Muslim Fashion Mainstream (4:30 min)

AlJazeera: Lena Khan Hollywood’s First Hijabi Director (3:27 min)

Black Muslim Experiences

PBS Online Film Festival: Black Muslim Woman (1:52 min)

What It’s Like To Be A Black, African, Muslim Woman | Olla Abbas (5:07 min)

Muslim Cool: Hip Hop and Islam in America with Professor Su’ad Abdul Khabeer (47:46 min)

Convert Experiences

Growing Up White and Muslim in America (2:27 min)

BuzzFeed: Why I Converted to Islam (3:32 min)

PBS Online Film Festival: Redneck Muslim (16:07 min)

New Muslim Cool (Purchase online HERE)

Refugee Experiences

PBS Online Film Festival: I Am A Refugee by Ifrah Mansour (3:26 min)

CBC: Teen refugee & family face a hard adjustment to Canada | Sedra

Integration TV: How Somali Women Survived in Canada

Music Videos

Ilyas Mao – Blessed (3:09 min)

Deen Squad Ramadan Kareem (3:29 min)

Hijabi by Mona Hayder (3:19 min)

Land Far Away by Poetic Pilgrimage (4:44 min)

A Land Called Paradise by Kareem Salama (3:46 min)

Stand Up Comedy

Make Racism More Equal by Hoodo Hersi

Putting your dowry on your dating profile by Fatima Dhowre

It’s Not Going Well For My Country Right Now by Nour Hadidi (6:17 min)

Expecting A Hogwarts Letter From ISIS by Ramy Youssef (5:06 min)

Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Shared His Refugee Background With Eric Trump by Mo Amer

Did you hear the one about the Iranian-American? by Maz Jobrani

Alcohol by Nazeem Hussain (4:26 min)

Explains Pakistani Culture by Kumail Nanjiani (8:30 min)

Made in Britain by Tez Ilyas (18:00 min)

Controversial Issues

Muslims and Ontario’s Health Ed Curriculum

The Agenda with Steve Paikin: Sex Ed and Islam (23:51 min)

Sex Ed: An Islamic Perspective | Farrah Marfatia (19:10 min)

Sex Education & Islam: Discretion, Not Denial – Maulana Syed Muhammad Rizvi (25:20 min)

Muslim Foster Parents

Integration TV: He’s not her baby, but she did it anyway!

BBC News:’They’re my mum and dad, not terrorists’

Muslims in Love

Real Stories: Muslim And Looking For Love (47:32)

Unreported World: Looking for love in Iran (22:40 min)

LGBT Issues

Who’s Afraid of Aymann Ismail?: Muslims and Homophobia (9:05 min)

CBC: Interview with Arshad Khan, director of the documentary ‘Abu’ about being gay, Pakistani and Canadian (24: 10)

TEDx: Brown, trans, queer, Muslim and proud | Sabah Choudrey (14:47 min)

Real Stories: Transgenders: Pakistan’s Open Secret (53:13 min)

Applications of “Sharia Law”

CBC: Canada’a Muslim Adoption Ban (14:36 min)

The Judge: Palestine’s First Female Sharia Court Judge (Purchase on Amazon Prime HERE)

Slate: Islamic Tribunal in Texas (8:23 min)

Real Stories: Divorce Sharia Style (47:50 min)

Real Stories: Divorce Iranian Style (1:16 min)

Polygamy in harmony in Malaysia (5:30 min)

CBC: Polygamy in Canada: An open secret (15:52 min)

The Men with Many Wives (43:50 min)

Ex-Muslims

Slate: Should Muslims Like Me Be So Critical of Ex-Muslims? (8:51 min)

Ex-Muslims of North America: Ex-Muslims talk to Muslims (16:52 min)

Films & Documentaries (For Purchase)

Tug of War (Canada, Purchase online HERE)

Yasmine (Brunei, Purchase on YouTube)

Divines (France, Purchase on Netflix)

Ali’s Wedding (Australia, Purchase on Netflix)

Jinn (United States, Purchase on Amazon Prime HERE)

Prince Among Slaves (United States, Purchase on YouTube)

Oniyemofe: The Story of a Name or How I Found My Father

Originally written February 15, 2018

Black History Month for me is a time of reflecting on loss and the efforts and outright miracles that have helped us reclaim some of what has been lost.

This is my part of that history.

*****

Growing up, I thought I was like most of my friends and neighbours, a child of a single parent, whose father was off somewhere, not at all interested in being involved in my life. Fathers were rare figures in my community. Fathers were not considered very important in the world of my childhood.

However, I was aware that if it had not been for my father, I would not be Black. My skin was a constant reminder of his existence.

When I was born the name on my birth certificate wasn’t name I have now. I was born Chelby Tamara-Emi Oniyemofe.

My father’s last name was Oniyemofe and Tamara-Emi was the name he gave me.

Then my father was deported when I was one year old. By the time I was five, my mother was granted full custody of me and he lost all parental rights and my mother changed my name.

I was issued a new birth certificate with a new name, Chelby Marie Daigle.

My mother’s divorce documents as well as an intermediate Spanish textbook had my father’s name, Oniyemofe, on them so I was always aware that this name had once been mine.

I had no contact with my father growing up. My mother cut off contact after the divorce. She erased him from my history.

I didn’t even have a photograph of my father. My mother had destroyed all her pictures of him.

Or so she thought.

When I was eight years old, while playing with an old typewriter at my grandmother’s home in Aylmer, I discovered a polaroid of my father  that had been taken in Nigeria stuffed in the back of the typewriter,  underneath the keys. My mother had no memory of putting it there.

I showed it to my mother and asked, “Is this my father?” She said yes and wrote on the back of the  polaroid. “This is your father.”

As I grew older, I asked more questions and my mother was able to provide me with more details about my father. I learned that he was from a country in Africa called Nigeria. I learned that he was studying languages, such as German and Spanish, at Carleton University and had been supported to do so by the German Lutheran Church on Preston Street. I learned that he had worked for an Italian pizzeria run by Arabs while my parents were together. I learned that my father’s brother had also lived in Ottawa and had children here.

As I learned more about Nigeria, I wanted to learn what ethnic group my father came from. I realized that the name Oniyemofe (which I had grown up pronouncing as O-nee-ya-moff but I would later learn should be pronounced as O-nee-yay-mo-fay) was the key to answering this question. So, I would ask any Nigerian I ran into what the meaning of Oniyemofe was.

The first Nigerians I met in Ottawa were all Yoruba. This was a good thing as it ended up that Oniyemofe was a Yoruba name. However, finding out that my father was most likely a Yoruba if his last name was Oniyemofe just ended up leading to more questions…this time posed by the Yoruba themselves.

You see Oniyemofe is not a real Yoruba family name. It is actually a sentence. I remember one Yoruba remarked accusatorily that Oniyemofe was a name created in order to sound like my family was royalty. I had to explain that as I had no real memory of my father and no contact with him or his family it obviously followed that I had absolutely no knowledge of the Yoruba language and therefore would not be able to fabricate a royal sounding Yoruba family name in order to impress people if my life depended on it.

The strangeness of the name Oniyemofe is what eventually led to me being able to find my father.

One day, in my early twenties, I was walking down Metcalfe Street and realized that I had passed the Nigerian High Commission. I didn’t immediately go in but instead decided to call and make inquiries about the ethnic origin of the name Oniyemofe. After being passed to several people, I eventually spoke with a Cultural Attaché who informed me that the name was of Yoruba origin. But he also told me that the name sounded familiar and that I should come to the High Commission to discuss this further. I went to the High Commission and met with the Cultural Attaché who introduced me to another High Commission Staff Member, Mrs. Abiola Agoro, who said that she had known my uncle. She told me that he and his family had moved to Britain and that he now worked for the Nigerian High Commission in London. She said that she would make inquiries and try to relay a message to him that I was looking for my father. She asked for my contact information so that she could get in touch with me if she had any news. She also told me that “Your father is all over my face.” I wasn’t sure what this meant but I guess she was simply making the observation that many other Nigerians had made that I have very strong West African facial features despite being of mixed race, particularly my prominent cheekbones, which are not as apparent now that I wear hijab and have gained weight but were quite striking when I was younger.

In early 2003, I received a phone call from Mrs. Agoro, who I had kept in touch which in an effort to learn more about the Nigerian community in Ottawa. She told me that she had a guest staying with her named Labi who knew my father and that I should come over and meet him. It ended up that this man was the same man who the Nigerian man I had met at Carleton University had worked with. Labi told me that he had last seen my father ten years ago in Lagos. He had been working as a security guard at a bank there. Labi, who worked as a petroleum engineer, was planning to go back to Nigeria soon and promised to make inquiries about my father. He took my contact information, including my e-mail, and a photograph of me.

Later that year, while I was in hospital after a suicide attempt, I received an e-mail from Labi while he was in Lagos. He told me that he had went to the bank where he had seen my father 10 years earlier and had learned that my father no longer worked there. Another dead-end. Or so it seemed. A few days later, Labi e-mailed me to tell me that someone who worked at the bank often ran into my father in the city and would try to contact him. A few days after this, I received an e-mail from Labi saying that he had found my father and was planning to meet him.

The next day, I received my first e-mail from my father:

Dear Daughter, this is the first time i’m calling someone my Daughter.I’m an Ijaw man one of the most powerful tribes in ngeria and oil producing area .in Ijaw language your name is Tamara–Emi which means there is God and really there is God.it is only God that has made it possible for us to meet again in this world.  I want you to come to nigeria very soon to know your origin ‘cos you have an interesting origin.

    Like father like daughter.i speak up to fourteen languages . ijaw, english, french, german, italian, spanish, yoruba, hausa, igbo, urobo, benin, calabar, idoma and arabic.   i’m a security guard earning a very small salary.

I had found my father.

But who were the Ijaw? I had thought my father was Yoruba.

My father wasn’t Yoruba at all although he did grow up in the predominantly Yoruba state of Ondo. But his family was from the Arogbo Ijaw community. So why does he have a Yoruba last name?

It ends up that my great grandmother was Yoruba. She was purchased by my great great grandfather as a slave when she was still a small child. She was inherited by my great grandfather and became his concubine. One of her sons, my grandfather, used to be called Oniyemofe by her as a pet name. Oniyemofe means “The person I love” in the Ijebu Yoruba dialect. Eventually, when my grandfather was an adult he helped his mother trace her origins to the Yoruba town of Imakun near Ijebu-Ode. My grandfather chose to take the name Oniyemofe as his family name when he converted to Christianity out of the love and respect he had for his mother.

And that is the story of the name Oniyemofe.

So, I was able to find my father because a slave girl remembered words of love from her language, a fragment of heritage passed on, like the many fragments of heritage passed on within the African diasporas formed by slavery around the world.

Fragments, like breadcrumbs, that can, sometimes, lead us back home.

********************

Listen to Chelby discuss being the daughter of a deportee on CBC Radio here

View the first video from Chelby’s trip to Nigeria below: