|Click the banner above to return to the main page|
Racism & MultiCulturalism
Vancouver, as most large Canadian Cities, has a wide variety of racial and cultural groups. This is much more noticeable than in most American Cities. In fact, a higher proportion of Vancouverites were born outside of the country, than is the case in New York, generally considered the most multicultural city in North America. While Caucasians are still in the majority, most visitors to Vancouver will be immediately struck by its high population of Asians, and people of East Indian extraction. On the other hand, the Black African and Hispanic populations are much less than any American city. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Canada is probably the most racially tolerant country in the world. Unfortunately, however, racism does raise its ugly head from time to time. We used to be quite smug about not being a racist society, especially in the 50's and 60's when we saw what was going on in the United States. The truth of the matter, however, was that we did not have any minority groups of a sufficient size to be racist against. With the large influx of immigrants from India and surrounding countries in the 70's and 80's, it became apparent that Vancouverites are as racist as anyone. The only difference is that we seem to become more tolerant to the second generation as they assimilate. This is most evidenced by the Chinese who were brought in to build the railroad in the 1800's. The Chinese have exercised considerable influence over Vancouver's' development, and are largely responsible for the appearance and flavour of the city, today. A recent Time magazine article referred to Vancouver as Asia's newest capital. There is little evidence of any racism toward this group in Vancouver today, in fact most Caucasians don't even think of the Chinese as a different racial group, they have been a part of the landscape here for so long. There is a high rate of Caucasian-Chinese intermarriage and integration. Oddly enough, some of the racist attitudes towards the new Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong come from the older established Chinese community. One can only hope, that the same trend will occur with the East Indian population as time goes on.
Canada, unlike the United States, has had an official policy of multiculturalism for years. This means that immigrants are allowed, even encouraged to maintain their culture. They are, however, requested to leave the politics of their homeland behind. This policy has helped give Canada its reputation for tolerance and it has certainly made our cities far more interesting places than they used to be. It has not come without its problems, however. There has been a backlash against the cost of providing English as a second language in Schools. There have also been a couple of incidents where schools run by a particular ethnic group have been used as training grounds for political battles back home, and even one incident where a terrorist was sheltered in such a school. The ideal, as envisioned by our policy of multiculturalism, is that immigrants integrate themselves fully into Canadian society, while contributing the positive aspects of their culture, to our society. Whether the Canadian policy of Multiculturalism is working or not, is a matter of some debate. Many people feel we should take the "Melting Pot" attitude of the United States, where people are discouraged from maintaining their original culture and are expected to assimilate themselves entirely into the American Culture. There is something to be said for both points of view, and the ideal probably lies somewhere between the two..
Racially motivated violence is rare in Canada, but it does occur. We have had our share of high profile racists, such as Franz Zundel . We also have had white supremacist groups appear from time to time. There was a recent incident of a murder by skinheads, of a member of the Indo-Canadian community.
Some Canadians strongly disagree with our immigration policy. In the interest of balancing opinion, here is the URL of a web site, representing those opinions http://www.canadafirst.net/. (Warning, you may find this site offensive)
The Native Indians are a special case. Canada's treatment of its aboriginal people has been shameful. I guess we can take some consultation in the fact that Australia was worse. Aboriginals there, were not even classified as human until the 60's. Canada had an official policy of destroying native culture and re-educating their children during the early part of the century. Children were taken away from their parents and placed in residential schools, where their culture was essential stripped from them. It was a kind of cultural genocide. Today the government is trying to redress some of these wrongs by compensating the natives in the form of large land grants, self-government, etc. At the risk of sounding racist, I'm going to say that I have mixed feelings about this. I have some problems with any group in Canada being singled out for special treatment on the basis of race. They tried this in South Africa, it was called "apartheid". On the other hand, though, this might be the only way to restore native culture. There are also many cases of aboriginal people who are still alive who were abused, especially through the residential school system, and these individuals certainly deserve compensation. The native community, on the whole, is an economically disadvantaged one, and the Canadian government has been largely responsible for this. They obviously should do something, but I have some doubts about the approach being taken. The money should be used to encourage restoration of native culture and providing educational opportunities, not just straight handouts. The test case for government compensation will be the recent treaty with the Nishga nation of northern BC. Hopefully the money and land compensation grants will be used wisely for every ones benefit within the native communities, and hopefully help restore the richness of native culture and traditions.
I have had several people E-mail me, asking how they might visit Indian villages, etc. Canada is not like Africa or the Amazon Basin, most natives are indistinguishable from the rest of the Canadian populace. Don't expect to visit Canada and see native Indians (they prefer to be referred to as Aboriginals, by the way) in native dress. Western movies over the years, have seriously distorted the facts of native culture. The movie image of the ruthless savage Indian scalping hapless settlers is a distortion. Most of the genocide was in fact the other way around, and with a few exceptions, most North American Indian tribes were peaceful nomads.
There are sometimes exhibitions of native dancing, but you may not have an opportunity to witness or participate in any native ceremonies, unless you know someone within the aboriginal community. Traditional Aboriginal ceremonies, such as Sweat-Lodges, Potlatches, etc. are not generally available to outsiders. You can visit a native longhouse at Mission in the Fraser Valley east of Vancouver. XA:YTEM: A cultural, historic and spiritual First Nations site