The Dhahan Prize is grateful to have supporters around the world. Its off-shoot program, the Dhahan Youth Award, couldn’t be where it is today without the support of teachers in the Surrey School District, volunteers and generous donors.
In this article, we highlight the passions of Annie Ohana, Indigenous Department Head (among many other things) at L.A. Matheson Secondary School. Below, she expresses her support for the impact of the award:
I have been a Surrey teacher involved in the Dhahan Youth Award, a charitable program run by the Canada India Education Society (CIES), since 2017.
I can testify to the power, motivation and inspiration that this award has provided for our grade 11 and 12 students taking Punjabi classes.
I have also been a liaison for Indigenous student participation in the award’s events. In 2022, two Indigenous student poems were included in the Lofty Heights Anthology – the publication that the Award produces each year.
I use the anthology in my classroom and within my teacher advocacy work in various capacities locally, provincially, nationally and more. It’s used to introduce topics from a youth perspective when considering how language is connected to land, culture and legal sovereignty rights.
In 2022, our school also hosted a dialogue with Lynda Gray, author of ‘First Nations 101,’ and Balbir Madhopuri, an award-winning author from Punjab, who speaks against the caste system. The two shed light on the injustices and multigenerational traumas that both Indigenous and Dalit people have faced due to colonization. It was awe-striking to see how much Indigenous and Punjabis have in common.
In 2023, the Award made the announcement that two Indigenous youth from the Surrey School District would also be given a prize for their short stories, and that their works would be published in the anthology. The district has 3100 Indigenous students – the largest urban Indigenous youth population in B.C. I have been actively promoting participation in the award to Indigenous youth.
The inclusion of Indigenous voices in an ever stronger fashion is a sign of listening and learning. It testifies to the power of what mother languages can do for all people. Fair Indigenous recognition and inclusion in the anthology, along with centering voices at the larger Dhahan Prize ceremonies is incredibly key to widening the public imagination and understanding of why systemic inclusion of language revitalization is key to decolonial and justice-based futures.
I have found the Award to be a great way for Surrey’s youth voice to be empowered. For them to speak on issues that matter to them, come to the forefront and elevate their own backgrounds while supporting the fight for justice.
With this Award, we aren’t just building writers, or language speakers, we are building leaders, one word at a time.-Annie Ohana
Annie Ohana (she/her pronouns) M.Ed in Equity Studies, L.A. Matheson Secondary
Indigenous Department Head, MustangJustice Program Founder/Director. Social Justice, Indigenous Teacher Advocate, Law, Social Sciences, Anti-Oppression/Justice & Equity Curriculum Specialist/Community Organizer Teacher Sponsor: MustangPrideGSA, Justice Leadership,Community Advocacy: Graduate Program Mentor Instructor at SFU, Next 100 Years Mentorship Through Identity, Shakti Team, MarchOn, IndusMedia, NEVR, OneVoiceCanada, Global Peace Alliance, Lumbala Strong Advisor, Solid State Co-Op Advisor, SherVancouver Board Director, Union: Local Representative to BCTF, STA Rep/ SJ Rep/ BCTF Workshop Developer/Facilitator STA Cmtes: Indigenous Education, Indigenization, Status of Women, Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, International Solidarity, Convention, PAPR, Social Justice
Intersectional Empowerment For All
Unceded Coast Salish Territories of Kwantlen, Katzie, Semiahmoo, and QayQayte peoples