Turban’s role in Canadian life examined in Sikh Heritage Museum show opening Sunday

Published: January 18, 2013

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Turbans at Sikh Heritage Museum

Satwinder Bains, Director of the Sikh Heritage Museum in Abbotsford, with UFV student Anmol Boparai, set up some of the displays for the new exhibit: ‘Canadian Sikh Identity: The Turban Challenge and the Evolution of the Turban or Pagri.’ Larissa Cahute/PNG

Satwinder Bains doesn’t want the Sikh history to disappear.

“We don’t record our history,” the Director of Abbotsford’s Sikh Heritage Museum told Vancouver Desi. “So we need to engage more.”

The museum’s third historical exhibit — premiering Sunday — takes a look at the “turban challenge” Sikhs faced as they settled into Canada and the evolution of it.

“Since 1904 from when they arrived there’s been consistent public as well as government attention paid to the turban,” said Bains. “The turban also is part of our history in Canada and we want to make sure that our history is recorded correctly and the history includes us.

“Sometimes students don’t read that history in their school system.”

The exhibit takes a look at a pioneer family’s settlement in Canada, displays turbans from around the world and examines challenges the RCMP and army have faced with the turban.

“Although we have a 100-year history, I think there are still questions in the Canadian mind about the turban and what it signifies,” said Bains. “There’s always this conversation going on around the city that I think we need to … maybe expose it a bit more and find a venue for people to have that discussion about it.”

She hopes the Sikh Heritage Museum will be one of those venues and help explain the important religious symbolism of the turban, which is that all baptized Sikhs must wear it because it’s part of the five symbols to identify Sikhs given by the last prophet.

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“This is why the RCMP had to understand that we couldn’t just take off the turban at will … it’s something you wear in the morning and remove at night,” said Bains.

And although the turban has “come a long way,” it’s still “static at some level.”

“There’s still history that’s old and ancient that continues to carry over into the diaspora,” said Bains. “We haven’t lost that — it hasn’t become part of an ancient folklore history or religion.”

But with that, it still suffers discrimination.

“It’s very poignant for us that even today kids are discriminated against in the school system,” said Bains.“The worst thing is fear of the unknown … we’re trying to break that down.”

The exhibit isn’t just a learning place for non-Sikhs, though — Bains wants the younger generation of Sikhs to understand its importance, because many young Sikh boys aren’t wearing the turban.

“Is there going to be a time when the younger generation doesn’t have a connection to the turban?” asked Bains.

“We want to acknowledge that the turban has a role in Canadian life. The turban has so much meaning to us and we want to make sure you understand that meaning.”

The exhibit officially opens Sunday at 2p.m. and is expected to run until September. Sunday’s opening will include a keynote address from Baltej Singh Dhillon, the first turbaned Sikh member of the RCMP, a turban-tying demonstration, a documentary and food and refreshments.

The Sikh Heritage Museum is located at 33094 South Fraser Way in Abbotsford, directly across from the Khalsa Diwan Society.

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