Constructing Heritage in Canada’s South Asian Diasporas

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How does diasporic heritage challenge issues – such as the term South Asian, or the term Canadian?

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Constructing Heritage in Canada’s South Asian Diasporas

A Symposium presented by the Association of Critical Heritage Studies-Canada in partnership with the University of the Fraser Valley South Asian Studies Institute, University of Alberta Kule Institute for Advanced Study, and Northumbria University.

16 June 2021, 10 am (Pacific Daylight Time) via Zoom.

This symposium examines the construction and performance of cultural heritage in South Asian diaspora communities in Canada. Panelists bring critical perspectives on how and why ‘heritage’ is important in grassroots settings, and whose heritage is omitted from the Canadian historical record. How does diasporic heritage challenge issues – such as the term South Asian, or the term Canadian?

We invite a broad range of scholars and practitioners working in areas that touch on the South Asian experience in Canada, to consider how diasporic meaning-making might contribute to official and unofficial expressions of heritage.

Moderated by Dr. Shabnam Inanloo Dailoo & Dr. Susan Ashley, Co-Chairs ACHS-Canada


Dr. Satwinder Bains, University of the Fraser Valley

‘Heritagization from below’ – who is listening?

Without objectifying itself, how has the Canadian Sikh Diapsora constructed and built a relationship with its own cultural heritage? Can communities like Canadian Sikhs resurrect a critical position in regards to negotiating ethno-politics (within) and erased histories (externally)? The work of critically understanding Sikh heritage as it is performed is grounded in acknowledging that our histories have been neglected and omitted from the Canadian record, providing no relief from the often nameless and objectified history of people of colour. I give examples of institutional practices, recent publications, exhibits and discourse about our past, present and future in British Columbia to shine a light on how Canadian Sikhs might work to renegotiate their cultural heritage.

Dr. Srilata Ravi, University of Alberta

Constructing Heritage: Tamil Hindu Temples in Alberta

The temple in Hindu migrant communities is a site where time and space are constantly configured and re-configured through shared retellings of the past. All Tamil language speakers are familiar with Tamil philosopher Poongunranar’s saying “Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kelir" (To us all towns are our own, everyone our kin). This heritage value which symbolizes cohesion, solidarity and interaction underlines contemporary Tamil heritage practices in Canadian society as it does in other diasporic locations around the globe. Furthermore, Tamils across the globe also treat their heritage language as a fluid resource for identity and community construction to enable them to shuttle between different languages and communities in migrant settings (Canagarajah, 2013). The built environment becomes a locus where ethnic heritage (language and culture) is recast as tool of identification, integration and development and also a platform to define how these practices connect with other urban and racialized groups. I will present preliminary observations from the first phase of the project that seeks to examine the significance of the architectural features of the building structures that define them as ‘hauts lieux’ (Trouillet, 2012) of Tamil heritage. The two sites under investigation are the Maha Ganapathy Temple in Running Creek Road, Edmonton ( ) and the Murugan Temple in Rocky View, Calgary (

Itrath Sayed, Simon Fraser University

Who Elects the Record Keepers? – Collating Muslim Community History and Heritage in British Columbia

This talk explores the problematics of how a community begins to tell its story. With very few institutions to rely on, how will the early history and heritage of the Muslim community in British Columbia be recorded? Will the existing exclusions and power dynamics within community organizations be replicated in the heritagization of community records? Whose voices will define the narrative and whose voices will be excluded? At this critical juncture when the generation that arrived in the 60s and 70s waves of immigration are beginning to pass on, who will be tasked with holding their memories and making meaningful space for these stories within a larger national tapestry?

Kathleen Boodhai, Northumbria University

Hybrid Hindu identities: Transplanted heritage and meaning-making practices amongst twice-removed Indo-Trinidadians in Toronto

The concept of twice-removed here refers to Indo-Trinidadians as having migrated through voluntary and involuntary systems and displaced twice from their countries of ancestral origins. Indians were first brought from India to Trinidad in the mid-nineteenth century by the oppressive labour system of Indentureship under British colonialism. By the late twentieth century till the present, consequent migrations followed, this time from Trinidad to Canada. Today, they are considered double diasporas with unique forms and challenges in cultural production and meaning -making practices. This talk asks what are the limitations of the term South Asian or who is included in the South Asian diaspora? It looks at how Indo-Trinidadian religious heritage-making practices play in the private (domestic) and public (through temples and festivals) sphere, and the ways they move around and negotiate their identities and citizenship in these spaces of commonality, difference and exclusions. What implications are there in transplanting this heritage from a place of established evolution and rootedness and Trinidad/Caribbean to Toronto, where it is still in its infancy? And to what extent do they consider themselves as a double-diaspora?


Dr. Satwinder Kaur Bains is the Director of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley and an Associate Professor in Social Cultural Media Studies, College of Arts. Dr. Bains’ critical analysis of India’s multilingual policy and planning has fueled her interest to study the impact of language, culture and identity on South Asian Canadian migration, settlement, and integration. Her research includes and intersects cross-cultural education with a focus on anti-racist curriculum implementation; race, racism, and ethnicity; identity politics; Sikh feminist ideology; migration and the South Asian Canadian Diaspora and Punjabi Canadian cultural historiography. Satwinder has extensive years of professional experience in community development. She is a consummate community advocate and volunteer and has assisted numerous community organizations develop and grow.

Dr. Srilata Ravi is Professor of French and Francophone Literature at the University of Alberta (Campus Saint-Jean) and Director of the Marcelle and Louis Desrochers Institute for Heritage and Transdisciplinary Research in Canadian and International Francophonies (IMELDA). Her research interests are in comparative literary and cultural studies; diaspora studies; Francophone postcolonial studies, and Indian Ocean studies. She currently leads the Kule Institute for Advanced Studies (UofA) funded interdisciplinary and inter Faculty research project on Heritage Spaces: Rethinking and managing diverse pasts in a multicultural society (2020-23). Website:

Itrath Syed is a PhD Candidate at the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University (SFU) where her research involves an analysis of the ideological history of Islamophobia in Canada. Her MA work explored the gendered and racialized construction of the Muslim community in the media discourse surrounding the Islamic Arbitration or “Shariah” debate in Ontario. Itrath also teaches at Langara College and SFU.

Kath Boodhai has worked in public engagement and as a cultural producer across the community, arts and cultural heritage sectors in the UK. She advocates with minority and marginalised communities for equality, diversity and representation. She is a PhD student at Northumbria University/Arts investigating transnational Indo-Trinidadian heritage in the diaspora across the UK, Canada and Trinidad, and currently Senior Research Assistant for Northumbria’s AHRC (Multi)Cultural Organisational Archives project.

The Canadian Chapter of the Association of Critical Heritage Studies draws together an interdisciplinary network of scholars, researchers, and practitioners working in the field of heritage studies who either work in Canada or have an interest in heritage issues in Canada. The goal of the Canadian chapter is to support those who explore how heritage has been framed, deployed, produced, signified, and consumed in Canada.


Le chapitre canadien d’ACHS vise à favoriser l’essor d’un réseau interdisciplinaire d’universitaires, de chercheurs et de praticiens qui travaillent au Canada dans le domaine des études patrimoniales ou qui ont un intérêt pour les enjeux patrimoniaux canadiens. Le but du chapitre canadien est de soutenir ceux qui examinent comment le patrimoine a été conçu, déployé, produit, sémantisé ou consommé.

SEE: or @MultCulHeritage

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