EDMONTON — Salma Lakhani may be the first Muslim and South Asian lieutenant-governor in Canada, but that’s not what she wants to be known for.
Alberta's 19th lieutenant-governor says she wants to use her role as a representative of the Queen to break down divisive barriers.
"Alberta has had a lot of firsts," the soft-spoken Lakhani, 68, said during an interview at the lieutenant-governor's official residence in Edmonton's Old Glenora area.
"We had the first lieutenant-governor of Chinese descent in Alberta, the first Indigenous lieutenant-governor in all of Canada came from Alberta, and the first Muslim mayor for [a] large city is in Alberta," she said.
"I'm happy that we are evolving ... and I'm a part of that process (where) we don't have these firsts anymore. To say a ‘first’ is a barrier we have to break down. (Instead, we should say), ‘She got appointed on her own merit and she happens to be Muslim.’"
Alberta’s legislature is to resume sitting on Tuesday, and Lakhani said she hopes to draw from the adversities she has faced in her life to unite Albertans and find common ground. Sworn in to her five-year term in August, she is still figuring out exactly how she will do that.
She is sure about one thing.
"I want to go out and meet Albertans," Lakhani said. "I want to listen to their stories, their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, and I want to learn from them before I actually set down concrete goals."
Born in Kampala, Uganda, Lakhani had a modest upbringing with her parents and two brothers.
It wasn’t until she was studying biochemistry in England in 1972 that she found out Ugandans of Asian origin were being expelled from her home country.
"We literally had to leave our house keys, our car keys, close our businesses and leave the keys there."
In 1977, Lakhani found herself in Edmonton with her husband who was completing his medical residency at the University of Alberta. Since then, they have called the province their home.
The biggest lesson Lakhani says she learned when she was uprooted from her life in Uganda is the power of education.
"Education really helps to lift people up. That's something that I've always carried with me through my own life journey. I was expelled from my country, we lost everything, but we didn't lose our education."
Her passion for education motivated Lakhani to become a vocal community member who would become one of the first mentors ofthe youth in transition program at Edmonton's NorQuest community college. The program providesguidance for students with English as a second language.
Lakhani has also volunteered for several organizations, including the Lois Hole Hospital for Women in Edmonton,thecity's child crisis prevention shelter Kids Kottage andthe Aga Khan Foundation Canada.
Her foot-on-the-ground approach to understanding her community and serving it better is something Lakhani said she will bring with her to her role as lieutenant-governor.
"One of the things I really want to do is highlight the people who do all this grassroots work. Those are the people who do a lot of the work and a lot of times they're the unsung heroes. They're not recognized. I would like to devote some of my time and energy to that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2020
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.