Culture Threads: Event Sparks Cultural Conversations

By: Sasha Gay Lobban April, 2021

Anita Ogurlu’s mother shared the story of why she kept a jar of left­over threads for the past 50 years.

Raised during WWII, she had to learn to save everything. Each of the threads—carefully plucked out of older garments—was stuffed into an old jar for re­use, to be resewn into new garments for her children.

This family story, sparked the theme of a new online conference, hosted by Saskatoon Open Door Society (SODS), held in January 2021. Despite the pandemic, SODS, one of Saskatchewan’s largest settlement organizations, was able to weave together an inclusive event called Threads: Cultural Conversations, a two­day online cultural experience that brought together close to 1,000 people from across Canada and over 20 other countries to participate in this innovative virtual event.

The family story behind Threads was shared to kick off the conference. Anita Ogurlu says that, “Threads represented the history of humanity and migration; each thread a culture, a journey, a unique story, removed from one garment or place and sewn into another garment or place. It was established to create broader shared experiences and narrative representing our interconnectedness as humans and promoting diversity, inclusion, equity and building positive race and community relations.”

According to Ali Abukar, Chief Executive Office, SODS, the main message of the conference is that, “we’re more alike than we are different”.

The premiere event is a welcomed opening to SODS’ annual calendar and an impressive kick­start to the year as the organization is also celebrating its 40th anniversary. Threads hosted over 30 speakers and performers from across Canada, featuring keynote speaker Andrea Menard, and special guests Kamal Al­Solaylee, Omayra Issa, and the Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson.

Originally planned as an in­person event, when the pandemic hit, Anita Ogurlu, cultural bridging facilitator, SODS, says the organization had to, “re­think what the event was going to look like”. However, after careful planning, SODS was able to give online attendees a unique cultural experience, which not only highlighted shared understandings but explored the issues, challenges, and desires of newcomers, Indigenous and non­Indigenous peoples and cultures.

Threads’ attendance showed that, locally, nationally and globally, people needed a platform where they could share their stories and have meaningful cultural exchanges; learning, sharing and inspiring hope.

Basking in the success of this amazing virtual event, organizers received a lot of positive feedback. According to Abukar, “there are plans to make it an annual event to continue to have this dialogue. We got a lot of engaging feedback about the speakers and participation and people are already asking about 2022. People enjoyed creating relationships and sharing experiences and that was our intention.”

Those who donated $50 or more to Threads are able to access Threads’ Archive, where all the talks will be available online for one year, along with updated material for personal and professional development.

This event was supported through SaskCulture’s Multicultural Initiatives Fund with funding from Sask Lotteries.