The Vancouver Dialogues Project

September 15, 2021 afoust.esa

The Vancouver Dialogues Project (also known as the Vancouver Dialogues) sought to increase discourse and exchange information among indigenous and immigrant communities. The aim was to build stronger relations between "first comers and new comers" to Vancouver.

Problems and Purpose

Beginning in January of 2010 and ending in July of 2011, The Dialogues Project was created to foster conversations between first comers and newcomers to Canada. First comers, referring to First Nations or individuals who identify as Aboriginal, and newcomers, referring to immigrants or non-Aboriginal peoples as well as urban Aboriginal peoples who relocated to Vancouver. 

The primary goal of the project was to increase understanding, build stronger relationships, and bridge the information gap between Indigenous and immigrant communities in the City of Vancouver. Therefore, the overarching purpose was to use dialogue and story sharing to “create a welcoming and inclusive city for all” in Vancouver.

This had become a priority as both first comers and newcomers reported feeling disconnected from the city and most notably from each other.

 Members of First Nations had many reasons for feeling disconnected. As Larry Grant, a Musqueam Elder shared, “We as the Aboriginal community don’t have a presence here in Vancouver. Our history is buried and ignored.” Additionally, some expressed resentment that newcomers were celebrated in practicing their culture while First Nations were still feeling the effect of repressive Residential Schools. 

Marjorie White, a Huu-ay-aht Elder and from Nuu-chah-nulth Nation, confided she formerly felt hostility at newcomers like immigrants arriving in Canada. These newcomers were able to freely practice their culture, speak their language, and wear traditional dress. Conversely, Marjorie White survived Canada’s residential schools which barred her from practicing her language and culture. Due to Canada’s turbulent past with Residential schools and struggles to explain how First Nations are still alive and present in Canada today, it is easy to see why members of First Nation would feel disconnected. 

New immigrants reported knowing little about the Aboriginal culture other than what was covered briefly in history curriculum. Community research also found there was little information for newcomers to Canada to learn about first nations. As a result, Canada for some felt like a white homogenous experience that left those with different cultures feeling disconnected from one another and their new home.

As the city of Vancouver grew, so too did the inability for communities to engage in intercultural communication. This resulted in efforts on behalf of the city to increase intercultural communication through the Dialogues Project. The five key purposes of the Dialogues Projects are depicted in its first stage initiatives. They are as follows: 

1) Story Gathering and Community Research

2) Dialogue Circles

3) Cultural Exchange Visits

4) Youth and Elders Program

5) Legacy Projects

Each initiative represents the overarching purpose of the project of increasing intercultural communication and understanding between people who ascribe to one of the following identities: First Nation, immigrants new to Vancouver (specifically those with different languages and cultural heritage), as well as different age groups.

Background History and Context

Few cities on earth are as culturally diverse as the city of Vancouver. The 2006 Canadian census helped to support this claim by noting that two of the largest growing demographics in Vancouver included indigenous peoples and immigrants. Moreover, the city of Vancouver publicly acknowledged that despite an increase in cultural diversity, there were limited opportunities for intercultural interactions between each community.

As an answer to this intercultural gap, the Dialogue Project helped to create space for First Nation, Urban Aboriginal, and Immigrant Communities in Vancouver to share their experiences and traditions. It is likely that without such an effort, diverse populations in the city of Vancouver would remain fragmented.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The Dialogues Project was supported and funded by the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia. More specifically, the British Columbia Welcoming and Inclusive Communities and Workplaces Programs (WICWP) were responsible for funding.

 The WICWP is a program hosted through the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society (CVIMS). The goal of the CVIMS is to celebrate cultural diversity and recognize the backgrounds to all those who call Vancouver home. The Welcoming Communities is a unique program from the CVIMS that focuses on partnerships to help immigrants realize their full potential through celebrating cultural diversity and dismantling racism through systematic change. The Dialogues Project was given funding because their mission is to celebrate multiculturalism while also creating resources to help others learn. These resources can be seen below in the Outcomes section. 

 The City of Vancouver provided additional funding to the Dialogues Project through the city’s 125th Anniversary grant program. 

Through this funding mechanism, a Project Steering Group of 27 community organizers was created from members of local First Nations, Aboriginal, immigrant, and stakeholder organizations. Three individuals in particular comprised the Dialogues Project’s committee and acted as co-chairs: Wade Grant, Susan Tatoosh, and Professor Henry Yu. 

To learn more about co-chair of the Dialogues Project, Dr. Henry Yu, and to hear an example of storytelling, the University of British Columbia’s YouTube channel includes “Henry Yu- Chinese Canadian Stories Project.” 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

Participation in the Dialogues Project remained voluntary and open to the public. However, snowball sampling was instrumental in recruiting individuals within the focus groups. The selection process for chairpersons on the steering committee is undisclosed, but likely attributable to those speaking on behalf of community organizations participating in the discussions.

 Additionally, the target populations were First Nations, Urban Aboriginal, and immigrant communities. Within these populations, special emphasis was placed on the “Elder and youth generations” from these communities. (Suleman, 52). 

For a full list of participants, members of the Steering Committee, and member affiliations see the Dialogues Project book, Vancouver Dialogues (Suleman, 52).

Methods and Tools Used

Storytelling, dialogue circles, cultural exchange visits, youth and elders’ programs, and legacy projects were methods used throughout the project. All initiatives were completed at various levels of formality and among different groups throughout the year and a half process. Because the project lasted more than a year, the methods and tools remained the same, but their application changed based on the individuals present.

Interviews and surveys were used to help to inform organizers as to which initiatives were critical to intercultural communication moving forward.

Storytelling was integral in the Dialogues Project. Introduced as a key component of dialogue it was used throughout initiatives and throughout the four phases. Storytelling involved casual discussions during dialogue circles to story-telling through performance arts in project ceremonies and cultural visits.

Community Research was conducted in two ways: 1) through community surveys and interviews in order to discover perspectives at the beginning of the project. 2) Community research was approached in a different way by seeing what resources were available to the community. Specifically, a literature scan was conducted to see what information about Indigenous communities was accessible to newcomers. 

Dialogue Circles:

Identified as “one of the key initiatives” of Phase 1, the Dialogue Circles were structured to maximize their reach and impact in bridging Aboriginal and immigrant communities in Vancouver. Members of the dialogue circles were invited to share their perspectives and stories on “social inclusion and community relations.”

Though there were 9 different Dialogues Circles groups, 2 factors remained consistent. Each group met three times to discuss the past, present, and future of Vancouver and each group had one facilitator to guide the conversation. The Dialogue Circles were hosted at various places in the community to encourage participant attendance and ease of access.

Cultural Exchange Visits:

Arguably the largest method used in The Dialogues Project, the cultural exchange visits were attended by over 700 participants. Twelve cultural exchange visits were organized throughout Vancouver to increase access to different communities and provide face-to- face opportunities to learn about one another’s culture and perspective. Immigrant communities, First Nations, and youth communities took turns hosting. Additionally, a dialogue was created in partnership with Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre for cultural visit participants.

Youth and Elders Programs: 

Youth and elder programs happened throughout the various stages of the program as it was seen as a critical goal. Youth programming refers to both young people participating in events as well as young people being hired for The Dialogues Project as staff. Eight staff members were hired, four of which had an Aboriginal background and the other four ascribed to having an immigrant background. 

Specifically, three dialogue circles were targeted for immigrant and Aboriginal youth to learn from one another. 

There were also opportunities for youth and elders to come together in an intergenerational dialogue. Youth hosted events specific to the Dialogues Project like the 2.5 day Youth Summit. Additionally, youth and elders did a series of “photovoice” projects. Photovoice projects, or Legacy Projects, were done in intergenerational groups to take pictures and add stories. 

Legacy Project:

Finally, Legacy programs were introduced as an initiative for the Youth to do to engage individuals in the Grandview- Woodlands Neighborhood. This project was titled “Our Roots” and young people (from the ages of 15 to 24) were invited to become Youth Story Gatherers. These Story Gatherers were asked to conduct interviews and voice the experiences of immigrants and Indigenous individuals in the Grandview- Woodlands area.

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The Dialogues Project was a 4 phase project with 5 key initiatives.

Since this was not a singular event, but a series of events that spanned over the course of 2010 to July 2011. For a detailed synopsis of participation in individual events, executive summaries from the Dialogue Circles, and anecdotes of interactions please see the recommended video resource or Vancouver’s synopsis.

To begin The Dialogues Project, a Steering Committee assembled to determine the state of indigenous and non-indigenous relations through background research. The program was launched at the University of British Columbia First Nations Longhouse in April 2010. 

The series of activities commenced with Dialogue Circles and Cultural Exchange Visits at the heart of The Dialogues Project program. The Dialogue Circles were hosted from April 2010 to July 2010. See above methods for more details on the Dialogue Circles. The 12 Cultural Exchanges began shortly after the Dialogue Circles ended and ran from September 2010 to May 2011.

In July 2011 a celebration ceremony was held. This ceremony commemorated the end of the Dialogue Circles and Cultural Exchange Visits and showcased the talents and cultures of participants. Snippets of this closing ceremony can be seen in Kamala Todd’s documentary video.  This celebration was attended by over 250 guests including members of local government, participants, community partners, and First Nations Representatives. At this celebration event the documentary video Sharing Our Stories was first screened and the book project “Vancouver Dialogues: First Nations, Urban Aboriginal and Immigrant Communities" was first launched to the public.

The final stage was to publish findings online and make available the resources that were derived from this process. Most notably, stories from the Legacy Project “Our Roots” were shared at the W2 Media Café, resources on the history and culture of First Nations were published for immigrant communities, and the documentary and book were uploaded online.

Participant numbers vary since there were different initiatives and phases of the project occurring over an 18-month period. However, notable participant numbers are: over 120 people participated in the dialogue circles, one-third of dialogue circle members identified as Aboriginal, roughly 40 Aboriginal and immigrant youth participated in the elder and youth program, and over seven hundred people attended at least one of the 12 cultural exchange visits.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Throughout the program, participants reported high levels of satisfaction. In particular, participants from the Dialogue Circles were happy to learn from one another and being able to share their own history and perspectives. Though there is no way to chart how many participants attended multiple events, The Vancouver Dialogues were seen as a roaring success.

The Dialogues Project legacy far extends the 18-month length of the project. Many resources were developed as a result of this program.

After the program ended, the City shared an informative video by Kamala Todd documenting the process, the project’s documentary Sharing Our Stories, and the book Vancouver Dialogues: First Nations, Urban Aboriginal and Immigrant Communities.  The documentary video and book exist to highlight participant stories and illustrate the process for other local governments to adopt a similar process. Within both the video and book at snippets of discussion from participants offer a way for anyone who wasn’t present to learn their perspective and history to start their own dialogue. The book is a more in-depth approach to understanding these stories, learning about each of the twelve cultural visits, and reiterating key take-aways and findings. These resources are all available to view online for free and accessible to the public.

The Cultural Visits were such a success that a cultural visit guide was developed and the program was adopted by the Vancouver School District Settlement Program. Their cultural exchange program (with over 200 families participating) is based on the original model used in The Dialogues Project.

Ultimately, findings from the school district’s program and the initial Vancouver Dialogues were synthesized in the 2014 publication “First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers” which was posted through the Vancouver Immigration Partnership. The short welcoming guide for newcomers to Vancouver is also available. These resources are featured prominently so newcomers to Vancouver can learn about the firstcomers and create a dynamic dialogue that continues beyond the history books.

The Legacy Project blossomed into a book launch for Our Roots: Stories from Grandview-Woodland,a legacy initiative of the Dialogues Project. This was collaboratively launched with Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre.

Finally, the “Vancouver Dialogues” blog website is yet another product from this project. Specifically, this website focuses on “engaging indigenous youth” by sharing stories and offering a platform for students to publish written pieces and their photo stories. Such as The Youth and Elder Photovoice Project  This blog archives these creative projects and more for the Vancouver Dialogues Project. 


City of Vancouver. (2013, April 12). The Vancouver Dialogues Project: Where the Gold Mountain Meets Turtle Island. Cities of Migration.

Henderson, J. & Wilson, K. (2014) First Peoples: A Guide for Newcomers (First Edition). Social Policy, City of Vancouver. PDF available at

Suleman, Z. (2011). Vancouver Dialogues (K. Fong & B. Wong, Eds.; First Edition). Social Policy, City of Vancouver. PDF available at

Todd, K. [Kamala Todd]. (2014, November 25). The Dialogues Project [Video]. Vimeo.

External Links

City of Vancouver. (n.d.). Vancouver Dialogues Blog.

Collection of stories from the Dialogues Project


Case Study originally developed as a requirement for SPCM 508 Colorado State University. Original authors: Allison Foust.