Various ideas I’ve put forward in this blog regarding Canadian post-secondary education are born of my recognition that Canada is officially a multicultural country and my belief that certain educational practices are more consistent with multiculturalism than are others. Until recently, I took it for granted all Canadians possessed a very similar understanding of what was meant by ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiculturalism'; but it seems that’s not actually the case. For example, as was pointed out by Douglas Todd in his Vancouver Sun article of March 13th, ‘A blank slate, with no culture,’ some recent immigrants to Canada are under the impression that, because Canada is officially a multicultural country, in this country all cultures have the same basic status and Canada has no real culture of its own. As someone born and bred in Canada, of English and Scottish stock, that certainly never was my understanding of ‘multicultural’. Then too, as I further considered this subject prompted by Todd’s article, I realized my own understanding of ‘multicultural’ had evolved over the years.
To grasp the various possible understandings of ‘multicultural’, and of course ‘multiculturalism’, I find it helpful to organize the various options in graphic terms. I’ve taken some liberties with our Canadian flag (and availed myself of the nifty iPad app Brushstroke for palette inspiration) to help me better understand the options myself and, since I’ve decided to incorporate these pictures in this blog post, to perhaps help convey to my readers various possible meanings of ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiculturalism’ in the present Canadian context. At the very least, I think some of my readers may find this exercise amusing.
A ‘GEOGRAPHICAL-CULTURAL’ CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM (WITH POSTE DE LA BALEINE/GREAT WHALE RIVER/WHAPMAGOOSTUI/KUUJJUARAPIK AT THE GEOGRAPHIC CENTRE)
When multiculturalism first became enshrined as Canadian federal policy in October of 1971, supporters of this policy had essentially only two groups in mind: French-speaking Canadians, who predominated in southern Quebec, and English-speaking Canadians, who predominated in the southern portion of the rest of Canada. The policy basically was intended to appease Quebec francophones. Since the education system of Quebec had the same European roots as did that of English-speaking Canada, this conception of ‘multiculturalism’ did not, nor does it today, dramatically affect Canadian post-secondary education. (Certain changes, like a greater emphasis across the country on attaining full bilingualism, would be expected.)
At least since the time that I worked in Quebec’s far north immediately after graduating from McGill in the late 1970s, my own version of multiculturalism also has incorporated First Nations cultures–that seem to have crept increasingly into the conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’ of most Canadians through this decade. After working in a unique village on the Hudson Bay that included both Cree and Inuit people as well as French-speaking Quebecois and English-speaking Canadians from across Canada (and that is known by the four different names I’ve indicated above), my conception of Canada’s First Nations people has included two main groups, like Canadian anglophones and francophones tied largely to Canadian geography: the Inuit, who predominate in a very substantial part of northern Canada and who have a very distinctive culture among Canadian First Nations, and all of the other, more southern-dwelling, First Nations. (I realize this includes a panoply of culturally, linguistically and geographically distinct groups.)
Thus, my basic, underlying, conception of multiculturalism, at least since the late 1970s, has incorporated four main groups, that may be thought of as Canada’s four founding cultures, each of which has laid claim to a significant geographic expanse in this country for a significant period of time. These four groups can be divided into two main pairs–hence the mainly two-colour colour scheme of the above group of four ‘flags’, representing, in total, one picture of ‘multiculturalism.’
Getting back to multiculturalism in relation to post-secondary education, this picture of ‘multiculturalism’, that incorporates non-European cultures and values, does have significant implications for Canadian post-secondary education in general–and is basically what I’ve meant when I’ve referred to ‘multiculturalism’ in previous posts in this blog. Also, since it opens the way for a postmodern perspective, subscribing to this version of ‘multiculturalism’ has implications for the receptiveness of Canadians, in general, to newcomers to this country from other lands and cultures.
A CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM THAT STARTS WITH FOUNDING CULTURES & INCORPORATES RECENT IMMIGRANTS
Back in the south of Canada, where I’ve lived since my relatively brief foray into Canada’s far north, it’s easy to forget how distinctive Canada’s Inuit people are, even among Canada’s diverse First Nations people. Among we ‘southerners’–including even those of us who should know better–at least for the purpose of thinking about Canadian multiculturalism, it’s common to lump together all First Nations people, including the Inuit. The above picture thus incorporates three flags whose upper portion is Canadian red, two of which are almost identical (they share a blue lower portion) and represent Canada’s anglophone and francophone cultures, and the third of which (with earth tones at the bottom) can be seen as representing Canada’s First Nations cultures, considered collectively.
The fourth flag in this picture, the green (and blue) one, represents recent immigrants to Canada. Although recent immigrants to Canada weren’t a major consideration when Canadian multiculturalism was first conceived, ‘multiculturalism’ has increasingly come to refer to the myriad of cultures and linguistic groups from which Canadians now come. In this particular conception of ‘multiculturalism’, that is mindful of Canada’s historical origins and founding peoples, all recent immigrants, regardless of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, are considered collectively. This is not to disparage members of this large, diverse, group–only to indicate how this group figures in one of my conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’. (I’ll have more to say about this shortly.)
AN EXAMPLE OF ONE INDIVIDUAL JUGGLING MULTIPLE CONCEPTIONS OF MULTICULTURALISM
This third picture in the four-quadrant series of pictures in this blog post was produced simply by overlaying the first two above pictures–which is an easy process with digital graphics tools. I’ve included it here to suggest that it’s possible to hold at least two different conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’ at one time–or at least to fluctuate in ones views. (As I discussed above, in one of my conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’, the Inuit have a distinct place whereas, in another, they are part of the larger First Nations group, and recent immigrants to Canada have a distinct place.)
CONTEMPORARY URBAN MULTICULTURALISM–WHEN IT’S WORKING–FROM THE POINT OF VIEW A LONG-TIME CANADIAN
This variation of ‘multiculturalism’ is intended to suggest long-time Canadians (represented by the lower left quadrant, that most resembles the Canadian flag) living amidst a large number of immigrants from diverse cultural and linguistic groups, as is the case now in Canada’s urban centres like Vancouver.
The graphic variations in the three quadrants other than the lower-left quadrant indicates cultural variation as well as that there is variation in how these groups integrate into Canadian culture. (In the upper left quadrant, the maple leaf seems to be midway in a process of turning from green to Canadian red.)
This very tidy picture, with its vibrant Canadian red, is intended to illustrate Canadian contemporary urban multiculturalism when it’s working.
CONTEMPORARY URBAN MULTICULTURALISM–WHEN IT’S NOT WORKING
This picture of Canadian ‘multiculturalism’, that involves the same basic configuration as that of the preceding picture, but that is a lot messier, suggestive of conflict, and, in general, more washed out, may be seen as illustrating a situation when the kind of multiculturalism discussed above isn’t working. However, in this case, at least we do recognize that there are problems.
CONTEMPORARY URBAN MULTICULTURALISM–WHEN IT’S NOT WORKING, YET WE PRETEND THAT IT IS
This is, at least in my view, an aesthetically pleasing picture. But, if we follow the logic of the colours and shapes their interrelationships that I introduced earlier in this piece, it actually illustrates a very sad state of affairs, with very little left of an indigenous Canadian culture–with this dearth represented by gray maple leaves with only a bit of red in one quadrant.
It suggests to me a time in the future–that apparently already is here for some of us–when a view of ‘multiculturalism’ involving all cultures in Canada being entirely equal and Canada having no culture of its own wins the day, and even long-time Canadians believe that Canada has no culture of its own.
In the past, when I’ve thought of Canada as a multicultural country, I’ve thought of it having essentially just one kind of multiculturalism. But maybe this is now not merely a country of various cultures but also of various multiculturalisms–in other words, a multi-multicultural society.
I realize now it’s essential for arguments I’ve been making, and will continue to make, in this blog about Canadian post-secondary education that, when I discuss multiculturalism, I’m clearer about what I mean by this term.