The kind of immigration and citizenship that we’re doing reasonably comfortably here in Canada causes horror and dismay and fear at far lower levels among all our allies. We mustn’t underestimate this. We’re caught up in OECD, NATO, G8, G20 – and all of these people are frightened by the idea of immigrants – new people arriving in their countries. And so, they’re creating an atmosphere of fearing the other, fearing the outsider. You see this happening in Europe all the time, you see it happening in the United States, building walls. So fear is becoming the dominant atmosphere, particularly in the Western Civilization, and we have a limited period of time to act with enormous self-confidence as Canadians to say, “Actually, we don’t agree. Actually, we’re not doing it your way. Actually, on purpose we’re doing it a different way, and it’s our way, and it works. We’re not saying you have to do what we’re doing. We’re not saying that we’re smarter than you. But we are saying, ‘Listen, we know how to do this, we’ve been at this for 400 years, we’ve been getting better and better at it.’” Even when we don’t have sufficient programming and government support, it’s still a very interesting, unusual, and particular thing we’re doing. If we start slipping on that in our schools – let alone elsewhere – then we’ll be in big trouble.
We’re caught up in OECD, NATO, G8, G20 – and all of these people are frightened by the idea of immigrants – new people arriving in their countries. And so, they’re creating an atmosphere of fearing the other, fearing the outsider.
What is the source of the Canadian idea of immigration and citizenship and multiplicity and complexity?
Where does it come from? Go back to England; it doesn’t exist there. They spent 500 years banning Gaelic and getting rid of as many competing cultures as possible, and putting forward this very monotone culture; the French – they banned every language they could get their hands on, and turned themselves into this idea of the Gaulois, single language, single myth. So, it doesn’t come from our mother countries. It doesn’t come from the United States, which in many ways is a European culture with the melting pot – the European idea that everybody becomes the same. So you’re stuck with this intellectual conundrum. Did we just invent this out of the air? Does it have no roots? Does it come from nowhere?
This question has a direct effect on the way we should be teaching citizenship in our schools.
[Looking back to the earliest European settlement of Canada, we see] 1,600, more or less, immigrants arriving in the country, and they are basically poverty-stricken, ill-educated, not well washed, and pretty hungry people from France. And then there are some equally ill-educated, poverty-stricken, lost Scots with the Hudson Bay Company. Generally speaking, immigrants who came to Canada were poor and more often than not the losers, and they found two million people here who actually were doing not too badly, thank you… and for 250 years those people were the dominant force here. So what happened? They used the Aboriginal model of welcoming the outsider, getting them in the circle, providing they followed a certain minimal number of rules. And once they’re in the circle, you work out how to fit them into the society…what their contribution is going to be. You balance the individual with the group as opposed to putting them against each other, which is the European tradition. And, there you are, they’re the citizens.
It was the old Aboriginal idea of the circle. That changes radically the way we ought to be thinking about and therefore teaching Canadian citizenship, and the roots of Canadian citizenship.
So that’s where it comes from. It was the old Aboriginal idea of the circle. That changes radically the way we ought to be thinking about and therefore teaching Canadian citizenship, and the roots of Canadian citizenship. They do not lie in Britain; they do not lie in France; they lie in the people who were and are here, the Aboriginal people, and they’re not rational linear, they’re circular. They’re not looking for that metaphysical transformation of someone who is one thing into someone who is another. Instead, it’s a much more complicated, relaxed, living with difference approach. Again, Aboriginal.
That’s a very, very big deal. If you could get that into the heart of our education system, the kids would be so happy, because they’d know who they were, they’d know actually where they come from, and they wouldn’t be fiddling around with this kind of pretend Englishness and pretend Frenchness, and stuff that comes from Europe – and then, when they look at Europe, it doesn’t seem to fit.