Reconciling Multiculturalism in Today’s Canada – a national symposium

Online, November 12, 2021 to January 21, 2022

Registration and schedule:

The year 2021 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Canada’s policy of multiculturalism.

Adopted in 1971 in response to growing pressure from various Canadian constituencies for more recognition, the policy of multiculturalism brought about significant and lasting changes in Canadian society. Over the years, multiculturalism in Canada has been praised, critiqued, embraced, or deconstructed by politicians, scholars, and various stakeholder groups. Supporters of multiculturalism have asserted that the policy has promoted an inclusive and accepting Canadian society in which ethnocultural minorities have maintained their own unique cultures and identities while participating fully in mainstream Canadian institutions. Ukrainian Canadians, for example, having played an important role in the development and adoption of this policy, became its active promoters. With Quebec designating its own “intercultural model” to manage cultural diversity, critics have posited that multiculturalism has discouraged interethnic dialogue, fostered ghettoization, and encouraged cultural differences between various communities rather than informing their shared rights or identities as Canadians.

Yet, critics or not, those writing from a “settler” viewpoint have continued Canada’s long-established practice of excluding Indigenous peoples from key negotiations of Canadian rights and identity. Adopted just after the 1969 White Paper, where it was seen that all agreements, treaties, and compacts made with Indigenous nations were being eliminated, the multicultural model was still promoting the colonial perspective when it came to Indigenous peoples’ roles in the nation-building project. From Indigenous perspectives, therefore, the development of the Multiculturalism Act was felt to be a further way of erasing Indigenous presence, nationhood, and identity. Only in 1982 did the Canadian constitution finally recognize the inherent rights of Aboriginal peoples in Canada.

With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2008–15) having completed its work, Canadians still face the need to renegotiate the very foundations of their identity. Questions on this matter continue to persist:

Is there room for multiculturalism, as conceived in 1971 and later modified, in these new negotiations of what constitutes Canada and Canadian identity? Can the long-established discourse on multiculturalism, developed from the viewpoint of settler colonialism, engage with—and bring into the centre of the debate—Indigenous perspectives, ways of knowing, and notions of nationhood existing in this land now called Canada? In 2021, is it possible for Francophone Canadians and other ethnic and visible-minority groups to continue to dialogue about the multiculturalism policy’s various outcomes and colonial nature, in the effort to understand what it means to be Canadian?

We believe it is time to engage in this essential and much-needed dialogue, and the fiftieth anniversary of Canada’s multiculturalism policy offers us a meaningful opportunity to do so. We acknowledge our conversation with the University of Alberta’s Situated Knowledges, Indigenous Peoples and Place (SKIPP) Signature Area in developing these ideas.

In recognition of multiculturalism’s complex legacy, we are announcing an international symposium to discuss the changing nature, meanings, and applications of Canada’s complicated relationship with its own diversity in post-Truth and Reconciliation times. We envision the symposium as a platform for a thoughtful and respectful dialogue amongst different stakeholders, scholars, various peoples, and cultural groups about the legacy of Canada’s multiculturalism and its place in today’s Canadian society. We anticipate this event will address and offer some answers to the overarching question of what it means to be Canadian and share a national identity.

The symposium will draw upon wide-ranging perspectives in history, Indigenous studies, anthropology, cultural studies, literary studies, education, political sciences, women and gender studies, and other related areas, exploring several broadly-defined themes:

Canada’s Multiculturalism Revisited

History Lessons for Community Stakeholders

Multiculturalism, Indigeneity, and Reconciliation

From Multiculturalism to What?

The M50 Organizing Committee

Natalia Khanenko-Friesen Director, Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies

Srilata Ravi Director, Insitut pour le patrimoine et les recherches transdiciplinaires en francophonies canadiennes et internationales (IMELDA)

Geoffrey Rockwell Director, Kule Institute for Advanced Studies


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