The Government of Manitoba’s Department for Economic Development and Training predicts the need to fill an estimated 24,100 job openings in the province per year through 2024. Filling those positions will require not only a diverse and educated labour force, but also workplace cultures where employees are encouraged to develop additional skills and access training in order to progress in their careers and take advantage of new opportunities.
Daniel Jordaan, the human resources administrator at the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), is one of those professionals helping people maximize their career potential. This is his story.
Gaining exposure to Indigenous culture and community through his wife and her family has given Daniel a unique newcomer experience.
I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, before moving to London, England in 1998. It was just for a visit, actually – visit, working, saving money, touring, that kind of thing, but I met my wife there. She was from The Pas, a northern community about 6 hours north of Winnipeg. So we lived in London for almost two years, and then on Halloween 1999 we moved to The Pas and stayed there until 2010, when we came to Winnipeg with our kids.
While I was up in The Pas I graduated from a business administration program in 2005 and started working in finance before realizing a couple years later that it really wasn’t for me. It takes a certain person to work in finance and my outspoken nature wasn’t a great fit. So I went back to university and got my human resource management certificate and got promoted to working in HR within an organization where I had been doing payroll at the time. Then about four years ago, I graduated with an integrated studies degree, specializing in labour studies, and started working at different organization in the human resources. However, I was so excited when this opportunity with UMSU came up, and I kind of wanted to come back to work at the university, so here I am.
I love reading policy. I like to see where we can strengthen our organization; I like to look at processes already in place and where we can strengthen that. And really, just focusing on how we can play a more supportive role to all of our people here. I feel that everyone should be treated the same. There’s also recently been a few promotions within our organization recently and I’m tasked with relaying that information, and I love doing that.
I like to see people happy. I’m a strong believer in that our lives are way too short and that we should maximize the way we can contribute to society, and if you can find a career or profession that you really like doing, then do it to your full capacity.
As an immigrant adjusting to a new society, it’s been tough! The culture here is completely different than mine growing up. In speaking to other immigrants, many of us face the same scrutiny and lots of times you’re painted with the same brush. And it’s difficult, because lots of people, in my own personal opinion, feel that new immigrants just want these so-called ‘green cards’, you know, and to take advantage of the social benefits here and that’s not the case. If I could take any advantage, I’d just want to decrease my taxes. *laughs*
But I feel I’m a contributor to our country – I love Canada. I feel the country itself is generous, and the policies that we have here are astronomically better than the other countries I’ve visited. And it was never like when I left South Africa I was looking for a new home. I was always going to go back to Cape Town – I was never going to leave, absolutely not. When I met my now wife and we were living in London, she wanted to live in South Africa, and the only reason we choose not to live there was because I have a very small family back home. Very small. And she’s Indigenous, so once you’re accepted into the family as a spouse, it’s a massive deal. They’re a very big family, beautiful people, and to take her away from them and live in Cape Town would not have felt right.
Opportunity-wise, job-wise, security-wise, safety-wise, yeah, by far Canada exceeds what we would have had in South Africa, and I will forever be grateful for that. But for me personally, sometimes it’s a big struggle being away from my family and friends. And it doesn’t matter how financially secure you are, after a while it comes back to: did you make the right decisions? I always wondered if people that come from war-torn countries, they wouldn’t second-guess immigrating to a whole new country, because all they would have known otherwise is war. But thankfully I didn’t experience that. To me, for the most part, where I come from it is peaceful and very beautiful, but economically there’s a huge difference.
A park in Winnipeg’s South Osborne neighbourhood is blanketed in white during a snow storm. Winnipeg’s frigid winter temperatures are among the most jarring experiences for newcomers to the city.
I’ll never forget when I got off the plane in Winnipeg for the first time. It was on December 21, 1998 and I’d come for a visit during what was apparently one of the worst winter storms ever [*Editor’s note: it was minus 38 degrees Celsius that day]. Back then I was still a smoker, and my wife – girlfriend at the time – came to pick me up and she met me in the airport, and I lit up a smoke. She says you can’t smoke in the airport, they’re going to throw you outside, but I shrugged it off cause I was just in a stupid mindset at that moment. So she tells me to put my coat on, but I didn’t have one with me because I’m African – I’m not used to having a coat! So I told her let’s just go to the car. The moment those second exit doors opened…I promise you, I screamed!
After that we started driving back to The Pas, and we passed a small town called Ashern about 180 km north of Winnipeg and I started seeing the inside of the windows frosting up. Now, you have to remember: I’ve never seen these things in my life. I was coming from a climate where the worst temperature is plus 5 degrees and it gets up to plus 45 degrees. There’s no snow. So I remember scraping the frost off the inside of the windows and saying convincingly to my wife: I think we’re going to die inside of this car. I just had no idea about winters.
Another thing that was shocking to me – now not so much, but when I first came – was fights. Like fist-fights at the bars. I couldn’t believe it! *laughs* Because back home, yeah sure someone might smack another guy around, but you better leave that bar right away cause that guy that got beat up might come back with more than his fists. And that’s no joke, you’ve got to be real careful. Whereas here, one of my friends use to scrap a lot in The Pas and he said oh, sometimes we just handle our business outside and then come in and buy each other a beer, as if it were an accepted means of resolution. It’s just so different. I was lucky that I never got involved in that though. People mostly just wanted to know where I was from and were surprised that I was white. They just didn’t realize that in South Africa about 10% of the population is white.
When I was living in The Pas me and my buddy would also take snowmobiles into the bush at night and switch the machines off but leave the lights on – there’s nothing more peaceful. On one of my parents’ visits I took my mom into the bush and told her you need to see this, and she cried, she couldn’t believe it. When you switch everything off and there’s no cars, just the light on and the odd little flutter of some sort of animal running by in the snow, and the snow coming down, and the snow-covered trees with their branches hanging …. I’ve been here 20 years and I still do it. You can turn your lights off in your house or in your room and things are quiet, but that’s not peace. You go in the bush here in the winter here in Canada, that’s peace – you find yourself pretty fast.
Last week my wife and I were sitting in our outdoor hot tub – yeah that’s right, I finally bit the bullet and got one – and she said to me: If you were still living in South Africa would you have your degree? And I said no. I always wanted one, but I never thought I was smart enough to get a degree, never. But finally, when my wife pushed me to go to school, I was an honours student. I was legitimately trying to succeed and was achieving a GPA of 4.2 or whatever, and as a result the administration told me that the government was going to pay for my schooling during my second year of business admin.
They said that I was a prime example of what they referred to as return on investment; because I was excelling in my studies, they were going to pay my way to enable me to get a better job, get a promotion, earn more money, whatever, and as a result pay more taxes. And, to be really frank, I’m happy for them to charge me more taxes. Do it. Coming here to Canada and getting educated has given me everything I couldn’t get anywhere else, so if as a result I’m paying a bit more in taxes, whatever, it is what it is for the better. I break my arm, I walk into a hospital and get free health care.
We all know the three highest government expenditures in Canada are social programs, education and health care, so somebody has to pay for those. I came here in 1999 and got permanent residency in 2003 and boom, immediately I get free health care. I haven’t been paying taxes into the system until getting my work permit so I believe I was about 16 or 17 years behind in my contributions, so in my opinion I’m indebted to this country and will abide by its laws. The only thing I do every once in a while is speed! It’s just one of those things. I tell my kids all the time that this is your home, but I’m just a visitor – or sometimes just feel like it.
First Nations elders commemorate the opening of the 2017 Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg. Over 12% of Winnipeg’s population identifies as Indigenous – the largest proportion of any major city in Canada. Photo: Canada Summer Games/Flickr
It’s funny cause a lot of people here will say: oh yeah, my Indigenous friend. I don’t have an Indigenous friend – most of my friends are Indigenous! *laughs* Their culture is of acceptance, that’s just how they go with it. I’ve been honoured to be accepted at sun dance, which is very sacred to Indigenous peoples. For a non-Indigenous man to come in there – I’ve always been honoured, and know my place.
That’s one aspect of this country that you, not only as an immigrant but any non-Indigenous person, should know about and have the chance to experience, or at least have the knowledge of whose land this really is. I’m really outspoken that I’m an immigrant and I’m picking the fruit of this land, but at the end of the day it’s not mine. Everybody’s like it’s ours collectively – to a degree, yeah, like I have a title to a house, but this is Indigenous land. Where I work is located on Indigenous land. And we have to be very mindful of that, and very respectful. Unfortunately, the stigma that gets attached to that sometimes gets in the way.
But to me, I experienced a big culture change internally when I came over. Racism in South Africa was institutionalized in the past with apartheid and can still be quite explicit at times, but coming here, I realized it doesn’t matter where you go, racism is everywhere. It doesn’t matter what part or corner of the world you come from, and I don’t know why we’re like that. I just don’t know anymore. As a kid, yeah sure, you were trained to see things a certain way and you were told things were a certain way. But as an adult your mind should switch pretty quick when you aren’t continuously fed those kinds of negative influences.
Like my wife’s family is Métis and First Nations and the sense of belonging that community has and where they see themselves fitting in within wider Canadian society is very mixed. So when I graduated from business I started working for an Indigenous child and family agency and I slowly, but surely received teachings from elders on Indigenous culture and values. Before that I would get bits and pieces of it through overhearing something at a barbecue, but it was never very formal. Learning from the elders was different; elders would want you to know what they were saying. Whether you practiced what they were teaching, that was up to you.
So in my opinion, I love the fact that I was exposed to that. Because people should know what a sun dance is, people should know what smudging is, people should know whose land this really is, regardless of what modern government entities reflect. That doesn’t matter. At the end of the day we have to be appreciative, be humble, and have a holistic approach to dealing with issues. I believe that in every decision this country makes we should have Indigenous representation, because at every meeting I go to it’s the same thing: government takes over, and you see the one odd Indigenous person in the background not having a real voice at the table. And frustrates me because, it’s like: let them speak.
Everyone should have an opportunity to speak, especially on crucial issues like provincial infrastructure development or where these pipelines are going, ripping Indigenous lands apart for the betterment of the Canadian dollar. It’s the same issues wherever you go. But I just feel that the exposure that I got through my Indigenous friends, the teaching from the elders – the laughing. It’s very dear to me. They’re beautiful people and as an immigrant I found safety in Indigenous ways more so than mainstream Canadian culture, because they’re very accepting people.
Residents in Cape Town gather to mark the passing of the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, on December 5, 2013. Mandela was viewed both nationally and internationally as a champion of social justice and racial reconciliation for his efforts in dismantling South Africa’s apartheid state.
Back in Cape Town, my mom and dad are still around, and my brother and sister are very successful business people. I’m going home again in a couple of weeks. My best friend is still there, too. Sometimes we don’t talk for two or three months, and then I pick up the phone and it’s like I’ve never left the country. I’ve never been able to develop a similar friendship like that here. It’s extremely hard to break through that cross-cultural barrier, extremely hard. Back home we don’t stay in touch through text, we don’t phone – no, you just show up at someone’s place and we barbecue, and everyone gets together and does something. It’s different here. And you know, I’ve never been able to get over that hurdle.
And when I try to describe it to my friends and family in South Africa they find it very strange. Though, you may have to take this with a bit of a grain of salt because when I still lived at home in the mid-90s, the technology just wasn’t around yet. There were very few cell phones around in 1996, and texting wasn’t a thing and Facebook didn’t exist. A call on a cell phone would cost you $4! It’s not like technology is so far behind there, it was just a different era.
My mom and dad have come here a few times and they find it extremely odd the way we interact – the way we can sit and talk with the TV on, that sort of thing. I don’t know if you know this, but North American culture has the biggest expressed need for personal space in the world. It’s something like two and a half feet of physical distance, give or take – a foot and a half more than anywhere else in the world. In 1999, my now wife, just my girlfriend at the time, we went to South Africa and I warned her: you know, South African people, we kiss as a way of greeting each other if you haven’t seen the person for a long time. So I’m going home again in a few weeks and I’m nervous, because my best friend’s wife, I know her very well – and I wouldn’t kiss her now, I’m 42 years old! But she’s gonna come in for a kiss! *laughs* That’s just how we are back home!
And it’s not like you French kiss or anything, it’s just a way of showing someone you really missed them. And you don’t kiss them again two days later! It’s just a way of showing affection to someone you haven’t seen for a really long time. But now, I’m so westernized that I know that when we go there in a few weeks and they come for a kiss I’m going to think what are you doing?! Hopefully they won’t catch on to it.
I’m very blessed. Everything I’ve ever wanted, I’ve been able to achieve for myself. I have a beautiful wife, beautiful kids and all the motorized toys I could ever want – except a boat. *grins* Looking back, I wouldn’t want to change anything. There’s probably things I could say in hindsight to make myself sound more sophisticated, but I’m a Joe Blow prairie boy. I might not have been born here but I’m a prairie boy, I can’t change anything.
There’s sad times, I’m not going to lie. I’m telling you, summer time, it’s hard for me. I don’t cut the grass anymore, my son does it for me, ‘cause when I smell the grass it takes me back to Cape Town and I get lonely. Just this year I’ve now been in Canada longer than I was in South Africa; I told my wife that I now I know what it really means to have roots somewhere. Canada, this is my country, and this is my home – this is not my roots. I will forever be indebted to this country, and I am very, very grateful for everything I have here. But my heart is always in South Africa, and that’s something I’ll never be able to give up.
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