Palestinian community prepares for first appearance at Edmonton’s Heritage Festival

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With festivities less than a week away, members of Edmonton’s Palestinian community are busy adding the final touches to their Heritage Festival celebrations.

“It’s our first year and we want it to be our best year,” Mousa Qasqas, vice-president of the Canada Palestine Cultural Association, said in an interview on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active on Monday. “We want it to be as authentic as possible.”

Heritage Festival is this weekend and Palestine will be making its debut at this year’s festival. 8:51
The Palestine pavilion joins 100 others representing different countries and cultures. It will be among the 73 tents dotted throughout Hawrelak Park for the 44th edition of the three-day multicultural festival.

Organizers say they aren’t cutting any corners.

They hired an authentic Palestinian dance instructor to train dancers performing the traditional Palestinian Dabkeh and co-ordinated with food vendors to make the falafel pita sandwiches and hummus dip with pita chips that will be on the menu.

Falafel made by members of the Canada Palestine Cultural Association. (Thandiwe Konguavi/CBC)

Having a Palestine pavilion at the festival this weekend is seen as a breakthrough for the community.

The Edmonton-based Canada Palestine Cultural Association had applied three years in a row to take part in the annual event but were rejected each time.

Last year, the organization even considered taking out a human rights complaint against the festival for discrimination.

The Palestinian community then decided to create and host a festival of its own the same weekend the Heritage Festival was held.

In a recent interview with Radio Active, Deborah Forst, the Heritage Festival’s director of marketing, said that fewer countries had applied for space this year, opening up a spot for Palestine.

“It just worked out,” Forst said.

The community’s participation in the event is being warmly received.

So far, the cultural group has drummed up close to 70 volunteers to help run the pavilion, in addition to 20 to 30 standby volunteers, from both inside and outside the community.

“We are seeing so much support from non-Arab and non-Muslim people,” Qasqas said. “I have a friend from Saskatchewan who is among the volunteers.”

Question of representation

Qasqas, 41, came to Canada when he was just three years old. Now a father himself, he wants to ensure his Canadian-born children have an understanding of their roots and see themselves being represented at the festival.

“For me, it’s important because I can tell my children, ‘This is where you’re from,'” Qasqas said. “It’s important in the bigger picture for the community.”

It’s estimated some 3,000 Palestinians call Alberta home. Some members of the Palestinian community in Calgary are planning on making the trip up to the capital city to join in on the weekend festivities.

Other Heritage Festival newcomers

The Palestine pavilion won’t be the only new kid on the block this year. 

The West African nations of Mali and Guinea will also make their debut at this year’s Heritage Festival.

There will also be a tent dedicated to Nashville, one of Edmonton’s sister cities, where southern fried chicken and corn pudding will be on the menu and the sweet sound of country music will be on the playlist.

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