Khairunnisa (Inda) Intiar
Khairunnisa Intiar, who usually goes by Inda, is an Indonesian who has called Canada home for the past nine years. She is the Moncton reporter for Saint John-based media company Huddle Today, covering stories related to business and entrepreneurship in New Brunswick. She is the co-founder of Woven Cultures, a diversity and inclusion project for children and youth. She currently sits on the board of Dialogue NB, a non-profit aimed at strengthening social cohesion in New Brunswick. An alumna of the Canada 150 signature project Canada C3 expedition, Inda has been involved in various initiatives related to diversity and inclusion, interfaith dialogue, youth empowerment, and truth and reconciliation in Canada, as well as education projects for children in Indonesia. Having lived her life across eight countries, the St. Thomas University alumna is passionate about building bridges between peoples, sustainable economic development, education and social welfare.
Identity is a messy thing for me. I’ve never been able to fit into boxes of what made a person one thing or another.
I was born in Indonesia, and grew up there and in six other countries before I moved to New Brunswick at 18. I never left Canada for more than three or four weeks since. I’m an independent young Muslim woman with liberal views. I’m an older sister, a daughter, and a curious person who wants to try everything at least once (unless it’s illegal!).
My English can sound Canadian to some, but my Indonesian tongue shows when I say certain words or when I’m exhausted. Sometimes I mix Indonesian and English in one sentence when another Indonesian is around. When I’m around a lot of Francophones for a while, I instinctively drop in French words, even though I’m very much a beginner and my vocabulary is limited to a couple dozen words.
I’m proud of this mess, but I also never quite know where I fit or how to explain who I am when society asks. Because they always ask - everything from “if you’re not from here, then how come your English is so good?” to “How come you’re a Muslim but don’t wear a hijab?” to “You’re educated, why do you still believe in religion?”
And it’s not that I don’t want to be asked. I’d rather someone who doesn’t know about my background ask me than assume things about me. But please don’t ask with your prejudice and assumptions heavily weighing in your questions. Revisit your question, examine your prejudices, re-word your question accordingly, and in case of misunderstanding, clarify your intention for asking. People are open to answering when it’s about sharing and getting to know each other.
For me, some days I feel like I belong neither in the West nor in the East. Especially when things like the Quebec mosque shooting happened, or when people diminish my hard work to attain a good education and become a professional in my field just based on my Southeast Asian appearance. Or when I sit in front of an older male member of my extended family in Jakarta, holding myself from making my eye-roll too obvious when he said - out of love - that I needed to get married soon because I needed a man to protect me and that a good Eastern woman’s duty is to raise a family.
It’s easy to say “just be yourself,” but it’s harder in practice to accept all of the blocks that made you, you. And love all of them, even when the mix makes society uncomfortable.
For me, this became one of the drivers of my work with my friends at Woven Cultures. The project aims to promote diversity and inclusion among children and youth. And that’s still our thing. But as I encounter children from mixed-race or mixed-culture households, or those who suddenly find themselves having to adapt to a country so far from all they knew, I wanted to make sure they don’t feel the way I feel. Confused and often lost. I want them to accept themselves for all the beautiful cultures and other things they identify with. Because I need to do the same.
And my upbringing made me understand the importance of understanding and getting to know another person’s story. I was lucky to have met people who wanted to build a bridge and get to know me and allow me to learn about them, their history, their cultures, their values, etc. I truly believe creating this connection with others makes communities stronger. I don’t want anybody to feel like they don’t belong - the way I feel sometimes. That’s why I was excited when Dialogue NB asked me to be on their board.
I feel extremely lucky for the life that I’ve been gifted, the exposure to other cultures that I’ve had, and the education I’ve had access to. That’s why I agreed to co-lead a non profit that teaches conversational English to underprivileged kids in Indonesia via Skype. I stepped down from that role in 2017.
And all of those blessings led to a relatively smooth immigration process in Canada. That’s why I seek out opportunities to mentor newcomer youth.
I feel blessed to have a family that would discuss injustices and government policies at the dinner table, on road trips, and on Skype calls. When my lack of understanding about the plight of Canada’s Indigenous peoples stared me in the face during a YWCA youth council meeting, I sought to learn more by taking part in Canada C3, a coast-to-coast-to-coast expedition to commemorate Canada 150 that brought together residents of Canada from all walks of life to visit and learn from communities, national parks, wildlife reserves and historic places in the country.
I’m an optimist. I believe there’s good if we want to see it and find opportunities from it. That’s why I went to work for Huddle, so I can help tell the stories of creative, innovative and active New Brunswickers in hopes they will inspire others to act too.
This took me a long, long time to write, because it’s a lot harder to tell your own story for some reason. But I hope whoever reads this finds something they can relate to. And I hope you find that you don’t have to fit into any boxes. Just be the beautiful mix that you are, enriching the world with your own perspective.
What's your vision for Atlantic Canada in 10 years? What’s our biggest opportunity now?
I want to see a more courageous Atlantic Canada - braver to make changes necessary for its people to progress and prosper. Braver to ensure its economic decisions are sustainable and environmentally friendly. Braver to think long-term and act for the long-term. Braver to understand its history and fix its mistakes. Braver to be open to the richness of diversity. Braver to be even more inclusive.
What's your favourite or most read book or podcast?
My current favourite podcasts are ‘The Secret Life of Canada’ and ‘The Moth’; the first to learn more about Canada, especially as it pertains to Indigenous populations, and the second to find inspiring true stories and learn how to tell stories better.
What would you have done differently?
Be less afraid and make decisions quicker
bridge-builder, writer, immigrant, traveller, casual musician, sketch artist