Shaping a new Multiculturalism Strategy for SaskCulture

By: Rose Gilks December, 2012
Much has been said over the years about the term multiculturalism since it became a buzzword in the 1970’s. Since 1971, the Government of Canada, as well as six of the provinces, have enacted multicultural legislation. In Canada, decision-makers responded in the early seventies to the multicultural reality found across Canada with an active multiculturalism policy and program area, which has seen positive responses in comparison to other countries. A report prepared for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, The Current State of Multiculturalism in Canada and Research Themes on Canadian Multiculturalism 2008-2010, by Will Kymlicka of Queen’s University, talks about the role and function of multiculturalism policy.
In the report he states:
“If we put these findings together, they push us toward some clear conclusions. I believe that the 35-year debate in Canada between those who argue that multiculturalism promotes civic integration and those who argue that it promotes ethnic isolation can now safely be put to rest. These recent studies – all of which were produced from 2006 to 2008 – provide strong evidence that multiculturalism in Canada promotes integration and citizenship, both through its effect on attitudes, self-understanding and identity at the individual level and through its effect on institutions at the social level.”
The report presents a series of studies from all sides of the question and demonstrates that the large majority of both the existing, broad population in Canada, as well as recent immigrants, feel very positive toward a “Canadian identity” and the acceptance of new, diverse cultures into the country. The report also addresses whether the European debate has affected the view of multiculturalism in Canada, and concludes that multiculturalism remains a strong and positive force in the manner in which it is practiced in Canada. Kymlicka’s report goes on to say:
“It is important to put multiculturalism in its historical context. In one sense, it is as old as humanity – different cultures have always found ways of co-existing, and respect for diversity was a familiar feature of many historic empires, such as the Ottoman Empire. But the sort of multiculturalism that is said to have had a “rise and fall” is a more specific historic phenomenon, emerging first in the Western democracies in the late 1960s. This timing is important, for it helps us situate multiculturalism in relation to larger social transformations of the postwar era.”
UNESCO has adopted multicultural policies and programs since the 1960s in every aspect of how they work with, and understand, their culturally diverse universe. This is discussed in their Multicultural Library Manifesto and Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (2001).
The UNESCO Manifesto states: “All people live in an increasingly heterogeneous society. There are more than 6,000 different languages in the world. The international migration rate is growing every year resulting in an increasing number of people with complex identities. Globalization, increased migration, faster communication, ease of transportation and other 21st century forces have increased cultural diversity in many nations where it might not have previously existed or has augmented the existing multicultural makeup.
“Cultural Diversity” or “Multiculturalism” refers to the harmonious co-existence and interaction of different cultures, where “culture should be regarded as the set of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features of society or a social group, and that it encompasses, in addition to art and literature; lifestyles, ways of living together, value systems, traditions and beliefs”. Cultural diversity or multiculturalism is the foundation of our collective strength in our local communities and in our global society.
Notions of multiculturalism are predicated upon the reality of the presence and continued existence of cultural diversity, as defined by race, ethnicity and religion. This diversity has been the reality of Canada since the inception of the country and before, and it continues to expand each year.”
The extent to which cultural diversity is increasing in Canada is highlighted in the Annual Report on the Canadian Multiculturalism Act by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
“Canadian society is becoming increasingly diverse, Canadians experience diversity every day, in their interactions with their neighbours or in the workplace, in the classroom or in their families, in the media or at sporting events. Diversity is a Canadian fact of life and is an integral part of our identity.”
“…According to the 2006 census, visible minorities, for example, accounted for 16.2% of Canada’s total population. Projections from Statistics Canada indicate that this diversity is likely to continue to increase in the future, with 29% to 32% of Canada’s population expected to belong to a visible minority group by 2031.”
Here in Saskatchewan...
Saskatchewan was the first province to enact provincial multicultural legislation in the form of the Saskatchewan Multiculturalism Act, first passed in 1974, followed by a new Multiculturalism Act enacted in 1997, “which reaches beyond the traditional definition to reflect the social justice issues of society today, such as racism and discrimination.” The purposes of the Act (section 3) are:
• to recognize that the diversity of Saskatchewan people with respect to race, cultural heritage, religion, ethnicity, ancestry and place of origin is a fundamental characteristic of Saskatchewan society that enriches the lives of all Saskatchewan people;
• to encourage respect for the multicultural heritage of Saskatchewan;
• to foster a climate for harmonious relations among people of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds without sacrificing their distinctive cultural and ethnic identities;
• to encourage the continuation of a multicultural society. The purposes of the Saskatchewan statute on multiculturalism were reinforced in 2010 when Pride of Saskatchewan was released as the province’s cultural policy.
Although the Act is not listed within the Pride of Saskatchewan, the language and purposes of the Act are included throughout the document. Similarly to the Canadian Multicultural Act, Saskatchewan’s cultural policy reaffirms the singular place of Aboriginal cultures, and goes on to describe the nature of multiculturalism in this province. As we reflect upon the “changing face of Saskatchewan” and our aim to be inclusive, responsive and reflective of the changes in Saskatchewan, SaskCulture recognizes the need to have its own multicultural strategy moving forward. Inherent in that strategy are:
• Recognition that Saskatchewan’s First Nations and Métis cultures have an active part in the strategy but that their history and culture as founding peoples are distinct;
• Recognition that the multicultural strategy that SaskCulture will adopt is inclusive of Saskatchewan’s past history of peoples coming to the province (turn of century, pre and post- World Wars immigration), as well as the increasing number of new residents arriving in the last ten years and into the future;
• Recognition that SaskCulture’s multicultural strategy will maintain the values and principles of the two Acts: The Multiculturalism Act of Saskatchewan and The Canadian Multiculturalism Act;
• That SaskCulture views multiculturalism as inclusive of many diverse cultures but also as the interaction between cultures intercultural activities;
• That SaskCulture’s sees multiculturalism within a positive framework that contributes to Canadian society;
• That SaskCulture’s Multiculturalism Strategy is inclusive of all organizations within SaskCulture’s network, not just those organizations with a multicultural or ethno-cultural mandate;
• That the focus of SaskCulture’s Multiculturalism Strategy will be the social capital building community and civil society; and
• That SaskCulture’s Principles and Values, as defined in its Constitution (1997), speak to the importance of “multiculturalism” within the work of the organization. Once SaskCulture has a draft of its Strategy complete, it will be consulting with its members and other key stakeholders on the policy and future directions. Although the Strategy is still in development, input was sought from those in attendance at the 2012 Gathering and the key themes surfacing from that session included:
• The need for more training and education;
• The need to understand all of the differences that make up our province;
• The need to give everyone a voice;
• Resources for more sessions like those at the conference as well as others – including Aboriginal myth-busting and the many differences in newcomers to the province;
• Increased public awareness and education of the importance for increased cultural understanding and acceptance;
• The importance of being inclusive of the north and rural Saskatchewan in the diversity of Saskatchewan;
• The importance of language to culture; and
• The need to ensure that our governments recognize that success needs to be measured by more than employment alone.