Picturing Canadian Multi-Multiculturalism . . . or Fun With Flags

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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 ‘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’m incorporating 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.  As I’m more than willing to admit, this scheme is, in some respects, very simplistic, and for some of my choices (especially colour choices), I do take artistic liberties. Nevertheless, it seems helpful–to a point.

A ‘GEOGRAPHICAL-CULTURAL’ CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM (WITH POSTE DE LA BALEINE/GREAT WHALE RIVER/WHAPMAGOOSTUI/KUUJJUARAPIK AT THE GEOGRAPHIC CENTRE)

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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 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 increasingly gained entry 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 the latter group actually includes a panoply of culturally, linguistically and geographically distinct sub-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 conception of ‘multiculturalism’, that incorporates certain non-European cultures and values and, thus, opens the door to postmodernism, does have very significant implications for Canadian post-secondary education in general; however, it isn’t the only possible version of ‘multiculturalism’ that may have such implications.

A CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM THAT STARTS WITH FOUNDING CULTURES & INCORPORATES RECENT IMMIGRANTS

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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 entire range of cultures and linguistic groups from which Canadians now come. In this particular conception of ‘multiculturalism’, that is respectful 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 say that, at other levels, distinctions would not be made.  Even in some of the following pictures, some rudimentary distinctions are made.)

AN EXAMPLE OF ONE INDIVIDUAL JUGGLING MULTIPLE CONCEPTIONS OF MULTICULTURALISM

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This third picture in the four-quadrant series of pictures in this 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 one’s views.

MODERN CANADIAN MUTICULTURALISM INCORPORATING INCREASED DIVERSITY & WIDESPREAD ACCEPTANCE OF DISTINCTIVE, CENTRAL, CANADIAN CULTURE 

This variation of ‘multiculturalism’ is intended to suggest long-time Canadians (represented by the lower left, mostly red, quadrant) and a large number of immigrants from diverse cultural and linguistic groups (represented by the other three quadrants) living side by side, as is the case now in Canada’s urban centres like Vancouver.  (The fact that, in this picture, there are only three ‘flags’ representing these other groups is only because I’ve wanted this picture, as a whole, to basically match preceding pictures in this blog post.  I can imagine another graphic representation of this kind of ‘multiculturalism’ with dozens of such ‘flags’.)

The graphic variation in the three quadrants other than the lower-left quadrant is meant to suggest cultural variation as well as that there is variation in how these groups integrate into Canadian culture. For example, in the upper left quadrant, the maple leaf seems to be midway in a process of turning from newbie green to Canadian red.

Because of the widespread acceptance of a distinctive, central, Canadian culture, this variation of ‘multiculturalism’ is harmonious.

MODERN CANADIAN MUTICULTURALISM INCORPORATING INCREASED DIVERSITY, WITH DIVIDED VIEWS ABOUT DISTINCTIVE, CENTRAL, CANADIAN CULTURE 

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This picture, that involves the same basic configuration as that of the preceding picture, but that is a lot messier, and generally more washed out, may be seen as illustrating a situation where some, especially certain recent immigrants to Canada, believe that all cultures represented in Canada are equal and that Canada has no real culture of its own while others believe that Canada does indeed possess its own distinctive culture.

Although messy, it’s also hopeful, with a strong Canadian foundation still holding it all together.

A GRAY FUTURE?

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Taken by itself, I kind of like this picture. However, if we follow the logic of the colours and shapes their interrelationships that I introduced earlier in this piece, it actually illustrates a 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.

CONCLUSION

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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.

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