Papua New Guinea performers were sent home by border officials who thought they were here to work
Mary Frances Hill, Vancouver SunPublished: Thursday, July 31, 2008
Papua New Guinea performers sent packing from Canada earlier this month will finally arrive Friday with a new itinerary, corporate sponsorship and hosts who'll greet them with a fresh appreciation of bureaucracy and public relations.
"Their culture is an accepting culture," said Gary Demosky, a Chase resident who escorted the troupe, called Seven Nationals, to B.C. on July 4, only to see them turned away by border officials.
"They're constantly trying to please, and that's what got them in trouble," he said.
The dancers, who will be hosted by the Little Shuswap First Nation as part of a cultural exchange, arrived at Vancouver International Airport after a 20-hour flight through Australia and New Zealand.
After a four-hour interrogation, during which the performers were separated from Demosky, officials decided they were in the country as migrant workers, and not visitors on a cultural exchange, as they claimed.
The performers speak pidgin English, and misunderstood officials' questions about whether they came to Canada to work. Without a translator, they took "work" to mean "dance," and answered in the affirmative.
"I told [Canadian Border Services officials], you grill people with questions, but you don't give them a chance to respond," said Demosky.
"If you're not conversant in the English language, you can imagine what that would be like."
Citizenship and Immigration Canada worked with the Canadian Border Services Agency to reverse the July 4 decision, according to department representative Danielle Norris.
She wouldn't say whether media coverage or a Papua New Guinea legislator's political pressure led to the second chance.
"I'm not going to speculate," she said. "I do know that both CIC and CBSA are happy and pleased with the result, and that these dancers are able to come back and share some cultural experiences."
The incident angered MP Malcolm Smith-Kela, the governor of the Eastern Highlands province, who sent the dancers on the exchange.
He had threatened to make Canadian oil and gas exploration companies based in Papua New Guinea feel the after-effects, and to report the incident to the United Nations.
Demosky said that in the last three weeks, he, the leaders of the Little Shuswap band and governments of both countries struggled with logistics and time zone differences to help settle the conflict.
"Dealing with government is like trying to do business with your head cut off," said Felix Arnouse, chief of the Little Shuswap band, who spent time in Papua New Guinea last March.
The band has received wide support from non-natives, he said.
"People look at what happened at the airport in the past," he said, referring to the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski last October after he was Tasered by RCMP officers.
"Things like that leave a lasting memory for a lot of people when the next incident happens."
The Eastern Highlands provincial government, headed by Smith-Kela, paid for the group's first trip to Canada, which cost almost $60,000, according to Demosky. Vancouver-based LNG Energy -- which conducts liquefied gas business in the region -- will sponsor the dancers' second-round expedition.
"We visit their country quite often and never have problems getting in and out," said Danny Lee, the company's chief financial officer.
"Immigration has come forward with a guarantee that when they come [Friday] there won't be any issues at the border, and that's all we could ask for."
The incident has forced a change in itinerary for the visitors.
Originally bound for an appearance at a July 25 powwow with members of the Little Shuswap band, they're now scheduled to appear in a parade commemorating the 100th anniversary of Chase.
The village sits at the opposite end of Little Shuswap Lake from the reserve.
The dancers will stay at the lodge on the Talking Rock Golf Course, owned by the band, and take home ideas about reforestation, running businesses on their land and using modern machinery.
They'll also be included in a day devoted to native bands in the Chase area, including the Adams Lake, N'scondolith and Little Shuswap bands.
"I'm looking forward to them coming here," said Arnouse.
"We have so much to offer one another."
© The Vancouver Sun 2008