Making a home on native land: Adrienne Clarkson on the welcoming way to be Canadian 

Always worth reading her reflections as the 6 Degrees Citizen Space 2017 begins:

It was Robert Frost who told us in The Death of a Hired Man that “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Home is the ultimate refuge, the place of obligatory belonging, the destination of the spirit. The idea that, ultimately, there is a place where you belong, a place which is acknowledged, is a compelling one. We all want to feel that we have a home: security, trust, understanding – all are a part of what we feel our personal home is.

In this time of increased migrations, it’s worth considering once again the notion of home: the kind of home that Canada has been, is, and will be, for many.

Canada’s original residents gave an introductory lesson in “home,” as they welcomed newcomers – Europeans – to their land, and helped them learn how to survive. In a tragic irony, it is their First Nations descendants who now find themselves exiled from a sense of belonging, often literally homeless as well as uprooted from a sense of this land as home.

We would do well to reflect on what we have – or haven’t – carried forward of their welcoming legacy, and on what kind of home we offer to newcomers who come after us.

In the 1948 United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12 says “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.”

Home is a feeling as well as a shelter. It is what makes the phrase “feeling at home” or ” chez soi” meaningful. Those of us who were lucky enough to have parents until we were adults identify home as where we grew up, where, hopefully, we were loved and cared for until we could face the world ourselves. In the fortunate industrialized world, this means we went from our parents’ care to our own homes, modelling our futures on our past.

Even though I came to Canada as a refugee, I came with my family intact – mother, father, and brother. We had suffered serious trauma, having to abandon our home under bombardment, hiding in basements and watching an enemy, the Japanese army, occupy and destroy.

My family’s house in Hong Kong was looted and my mother saw our household furniture, the baby grand piano, the hand-painted heirloom china, and the silver tea and coffee service sold on the street. Our dog, a borzoi called Snow White, who had run away during the bombing, returned to us with human entrails in her mouth. Our home in Happy Valley was taken away from us and defiled.

When we made our way toward Canada on that Red Cross ship with one suitcase apiece, we had lost all our tangible bearings. But what was within us could not be destroyed. What was in us was the will and energy to begin again – in a new place, no matter how tough.

Despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, an active law intended to keep Chinese immigrants out of the country, we managed to settle in Ottawa, which was then a city of 90,000 people.

Here, the only Chinese either owned restaurants or laundries. But it was the Anglican church that welcomed us and made us feel at home, and that gave my mother, who was Hakka – and whose family had been Anglican for four generations – help and confidence. Coming from Hong Kong, we all spoke English, as good colonials should.

I often think of this when I think of the surge of people around the world, the millions on the move, swelling the refugee camps where they languish for not months, but years, waiting for the opportunity to leave. In Canada, our challenge is to make immigrants feel that they have found the place where, when they had to come here, we had to take them in.

Integration isn’t always a matter of getting lost in the crowd. Sometimes a sense of home can be built in places that may seem insular at first – not Toronto or Vancouver but Moose Jaw or Red Deer. As governor-general I went to Red Deer 15 years ago because they wanted to show me that their population mosaic was as great as Toronto’s. They had jobs to offer there and they were welcoming newcomers.

Among the 300 people who greeted me, 24 countries were represented. Filipinos, Chinese, Kenyans – all got up and spoke about the advantages of coming to what was at that time a city of 75,000 people. Initially, they said, they stood out as foreigners – they were stared at, but they found they could live through that, and if someone directed a racist epithet at their child, someone else would say, “I know his mother – she works at my local Tim Hortons.” And so they felt they quickly became part of a community. They all said that if they had known that they would have to go to a small city to find work, rather than settle in Calgary or Edmonton, they would have said, “No thanks.” In a big city, you can find others like you – whether you like them or not – but you will never be a novelty or different, in the best sense of the word.

People of my generation remember being the only South Asian family in London, Ont. or the only Chinese in St. John’s. It’s not possible to hide in communities of that size, and I’m of the belief that this isn’t such a bad thing. I have a leaning toward the “So I am different. Let’s get that over with now” school of integration. It will cause discomfort for newcomers, but is being stared at in a street or in a store too high a price to pay for establishing yourself in a country in which you are free to choose where you want to live and how you want to live?

My parents would emphasize to me that, in Hong Kong, they would not have been able to afford the kind of education we were getting for free in Ottawa – wasn’t it worth enduring some gawking on the first day of school for that? We must never interpret social awkwardness as an insurmountable barrier to belonging, nor bad manners as an ultimate form of rejection.

True, ugly racism manifests itself in other ways which we can address and combat as a society within our legal system. Some personal suffering, some loss of dignity, some sense of being excluded – all can be steps in a kind of Calvary that leads to acceptance and feeling at home. So many of us who are Canadians now have had to go down this road in the past.

Those of us who came to Canada like me, a refugee, or those who chose to leave their birth countries and chance something different, something more, have risked that we can go somewhere and be taken in. In Canada, we are in a position to take people in. And they will arrive to our cities and to our towns and communities. There will be room made for them. Or, they will make viable room for themselves in what The Globe’s Doug Saunders has described so vividly as “arrival cities”: What looks like disorder and distress can actually be an organic chaos leading to the innovative organization of a home.

We are supposed to be a healthy and prosperous country – one that is known to shelter and provide for its citizens. Unfortunately, despite this, we have the stigma of unacceptable homelessness and poverty in our country. We know that 235,000 Canadians experience homelessness each year, and that 35,000 are homeless on any given night. Twenty per cent of our homeless population is made up of people between the ages of 16-24. It is shameful that our Indigenous peoples are overrepresented in our homelessness population: One in four people who experience homelessness identify as Aboriginal or First Nations. We want to welcome newcomer families to our country, and yet somehow Canadian children and families are the fastest-growing demographic experiencing homelessness today. All this is a national disgrace.

We must adhere to the values that make this country a desirable place to settle in: “So the last shall be first, and the first last,” as the Bible says. We have means enough to focus our resources on the people who need them most, wherever they may be from.

What we have to do in Canada is assure that the place that has to take people in can offer a real home to them and to the people who are already living here. We must be certain that we are always working toward an egalitarian standard of living. We must give ourselves the goal of eliminating the blight of homelessness, the institutionalizing of food banks, the disgrace of filthy water on our reserves.

Over 40 years ago, in 1976, when we started the CBC’s investigative news programme the fifth estate, we opened a working file on bad water at Grassy Narrows. Several months ago, there was a story on bad water in Grassy Narrows in The Globe and Mail. We do have to wonder, What the hell is going on? For our Indigenous peoples, a home must be the place where they are cared for and valued, just as much as we cared for the strangers who arrived and needed to be taken in.

We must never forget that the Indigenous peoples took us all in as strangers, opened their land to us, and shared their skills and their knowledge so that we could live in a country with a rude, difficult climate and impossible terrain. Through the waterways and in their canoes, we mastered this land and called it home. It is our duty and obligation – and a part of being a citizen – to make sure that home is bountiful for all of us.

Source: Making a home on native land: Adrienne Clarkson on the welcoming way to be Canadian – The Globe and Mail

Inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship Awarded to the Aga Khan for His Commitment to Advancing Pluralism 

Always worth noting the Aga Khan’s comments on multiculturalism, diversity and pluralism:

“One enormous challenge, of course,” observed the Aga Khan, “is the simple fact that diversity is increasing around the world. The task is not merely learning to live with that diversity, but learning to live with greater diversity with each passing year.” The Aga Khan fully recognizes the frustrations of the pluralism story. The challenge, he noted, was that as we become aware of the diversity of the world we live in and come into contact with people who are different than us, difference becomes a source of conflict rather than an opportunity. “We talk sincerely about the values of diversity, about living with complexity. But in too many cases more diversity seems to mean more division; greater complexity, more fragmentation, and more fragmentation can bring us closer to conflict.”

It is not just proximity that creates this awareness, and often tension. Technology and media, while seemingly bringing us together, recognized the Aga Khan, often pull us apart, feeding ignorance and insularity. The antidote, however, isn’t ignoring difference. “We often hear in discussions of Global Citizenship that people are basically alike. Under the skin, deep in our hearts, we are all brothers and sisters – we are told – and the secret to a harmonious world is to ignore our differences and to emphasize our similarities. What worries me, however,” said the Aga Khan “is when some take that message to mean that our differences are trivial, that they can be ignored, and eventually erased. And that is not good advice. In fact, it is impossible.”

“Pretending that our differences are trivial will not persuade most people to embrace pluralistic attitudes. In fact, it might frighten them away. People know that differences can be challenging, that disagreements are inevitable, that our fellow-humans can sometimes be disagreeable,” he continued.

Too often people think that embracing the values of Global Citizenship means diluting or compromising one’s own bonds to country or peoples. This is not the case emphasized His Highness. Rather, “the call of pluralism should ask us to respect our differences, but not to ignore them, to integrate diversity, not to depreciate diversity. The call for cosmopolitanism is not a call to homogenization. It means affirming social solidarity, without imposing social conformity. One’s identity need not be diluted in a pluralistic world, but rather fulfilled, as one bright thread in a cloth of many colours.”

How one goes about achieving this is no easy task. He ended the evening with a recipe-of-clarity-and-wisdom in charting a future for global citizenship: “a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference.”

The Aga Khan’s full speech can be found here.

Source: Inaugural Adrienne Clarkson Prize for Global Citizenship Awarded to the Aga Khan for His Commitment to Advancing Pluralism | Huffington Post

Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

One of the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and one that will likely be implemented to some degree.

As Adrienne Clarkson notes in her book, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship, when immigrants become citizens they inherit both the good and bad parts of our history, and thus better knowledge of the history of Indigenous Peoples and their treatment is essential.

It is likely, should the Liberal government revise the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, (almost a certainty), the overall diversity and inclusion theme will feature prominently, including with respect to Indigenous Peoples:

Canada’s Indigenous people are asking immigrants to join the nationwide process of reconciliation by learning about and celebrating Indigenous culture.

One of the many recommendations that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) published in their final report calls on the government to incorporate more information on the history of Canada’s diverse Indigenous communities in information kits for newcomers and in citizenship tests.

This includes information on residential schools and the Treaties through which settlers dispossessed the Indigenous peoples of their land.

The recommendation is just one 94 outlined in the report from the TRC, whose work on restoring the relationship between the Canadian government and Indigenous communities culminated with the report’s delivery on Dec. 15, 2015.

Learning the true history of Canada

“I really think it’s important to realize that this was not an empty land when people came here. There were thriving nations in this land,” says Jane Hubbard, acting director of operations of the Legacy of Hope Foundation.

Her organization works to raise awareness about the history of residential schools in Canada and to promote reconciliation among Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in Canada.

“I think it’s very important that the true history be told, so that people understand that Canada did not start in 1867. There was a long history before contact as well,” she says.

Hubbard says Aboriginal peoples’ present-day contributions to society should also be included and celebrated.

“Often in a lot of government materials, Aboriginal peoples are referred to in such a way as to make someone think that perhaps they are a historical entity,” she says.

It is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative.

“We would like to see more of the current-day representation. Thriving cultures, restoration of language. That people are here and walking amongst us and that they are lively contributors to society.”

Andrew Tataj is a second-generation Canadian whose parents came to Canada in the 1970s from Ireland and former Yugoslavia. “Learning about our history is important, because it can help newcomers assimilate into our culture, especially knowing about the country’s past – good and bad things,” says the computer engineer.

However, he is skeptical about the positive effect of providing more information. “I don’t think much can be changed when it comes to awareness. … It won’t get their land back,” he says.

Participating in reconciliation

Heather Igloliorte, an Inuit professor and chair in Indigenous art history and community engagement at Concordia University, outlines some ways in which newcomers can participate actively in the process of reconciliation.

“I think that one of the things that new Canadians could do is attend festivals and celebrations and Aboriginal peoples’ day and other events, so that they have an opportunity to meet and converse with Indigenous people. So that their understanding does not come only from literature, but also from first-person experience,” she says.

One of the primary focuses of the TRC was to expose the truths of the residential-school system.

Igloliorte says that it is vital that newcomers do independent research to learn about Indigenous culture, instead of absorbing the misinterpretations of the general narrative about them.

“It’s incredibly important for newcomers to Canada to understand the history of how we got to where we are today, so that they do not simply absorb the stereotypes and the racist perspectives towards Indigenous people that we still have in Canada right now,” says Igloliorte.

“I think Aboriginal people did not receive enough respect from the very beginning,” says Khaled Elrodesly, a biomedical engineer from Egypt who recently took his citizenship test. “They are supposed to be the first settlers of the Americas and everyone else that comes after them should respect their thoughts and ideas and try to connect with them.”

Source: Newcomers – Reconciliation Needs You Too – New Canadian Media

Adrienne Clarkson on why Canada’s multiculturalism works – And my review from Embassy Magazine

As she delivers her Massey Lectures, this interesting vignette from Montreal:

She rejects the notion, however, that belonging means excluding others.

Clarkson’s assertion was put to the test after she delivered her first Massey Lecture in Montreal, when an audience member pointed out that excluding others is precisely how many political leaders define the identity of the group they profess to represent.

The audience member pointed to some extreme opinions expressed during the Quebec Charter debate, and how right-wing leaders in Europe score political points by openly vilifying Muslims and immigrants.

“It’s basically racist,” was Clarkson’s answer. “And in France, I’m afraid, you still do hear things that I heard in Canada in the ‘40s as a child, about Jews and so on.“

I think that fear and ignorance and bigotry and so on should be always met head-on.”

Adrienne Clarkson on why Canadas multiculturalism works – Canada – CBC News.

And excerpt from my take:

Her praise for what the Aga Khan calls a “cosmopolitan ethic,” where we need to continuously engage in conversations with those of different backgrounds, loyalties, religions and ethnicities, further reinforces this need for ongoing dialogue and understanding in a complex multicultural society such as Canada.

Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship provides a welcome antidote to so much of the excessive fretting that occurs around Canadian citizenship and multiculturalism.

But Clarkson’s reliance on behaving “as if” things are working well, wishing it were so, can be as risky as the alternate “as if,” that Canadian citizenship and multiculturalism are not working.

Certainly, compared to most countries, we have been remarkably successful. Political differences are at the margins, we have no political parties opposed to immigration and all political parties actively pursue ethnic community votes.

But we do have serious challenges from the perspective of equity, discrimination and representation.

By provoking discussion implicitly on what kind of “as if” we should employ to help shape the ongoing evolution of Canadian society, Clarkson has posed the fundamental question on what kind of Canada we want and how we should behave to help it come into being.

A relentlessly upbeat take on citizenship

Adrienne Clarkson: ‘I always felt I belonged’

More snippets from Adrienne Clarkson interviews on her book, Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship:

We are often very centred on the Western ideal of citizenship. I wanted to be sure that we looked at the world, not just at the Western Greek ideal, but also that we deal with our own aboriginal gifts in this country, that we deal with an African concept … and that we deal with an Asian Buddhist concept about how you create something that you all belong to. These concepts are valuable to open people’s minds to the idea that in all of the world, people are thinking about these things and they come at it in their different ways.

Ubuntu says you exist because the other exists. You are part of other people. I exist because you exist. I think that’s a wonderful feeling to have because it means we are part of each other and we are part of a kind of understanding of each other, which we don’t feel rationally, but we feel it because we are all human beings. I am human because you are human.

Adrienne Clarkson: ‘I always felt I belonged’.

Former Governor-General Clarkson says Canada has redefined citizenship

Globe immigration/citizenship reporter Joe Friesen’s interview with Adrienne Clarkson on citizenship:

You say citizenship is an act of imagination. What does that mean?

It means we imagine ourselves as part of a democratic structure, as equal, as able to get on with our lives without having to worry about our rights. We behave “As if” people who come here will be able to take their place in society and by doing that they are able to do so. [Northrop] Frye said that our imagination gives us our vision of what our society is and what it could be. Rather than having a grid imposed on us, we have become part of each other’s wishes, part of each other’s dreams and in the process we’re creating a new kind of society.

Situates citizenship (and multiculturalism) within that context, unlike many critics who forget, intentionally or not, that the Canadian approach, while allowing considerable flexibility and accommodation, happens within that context.

Former Governor-General Clarkson says Canada has redefined citizenship – The Globe and Mail.

Adrienne Clarkson on the anguish of not belonging

Adrienne Clarkson on citizenship in her Massey Lectures this fall. Worth reading and reflecting upon:

It was in attending public school that I truly felt a sense of place in this country. Still today I believe that a public education is the single most valuable institution that our society provides to help people belong. If we are going to continue to accommodate newcomers into society, we must continue to have well-funded public education—education paid for by the state, free for all citizens. This has been key to our success ever since our humble beginnings. Without public education, we cannot have a cohesive society, a society with shared values. Without public education, we cannot continue to fulfill the public good—that is, the internationalization and the continuation of our key notions and values from one generation to the next. We can do all of this only in a democratic structure, where all children are treated as equal, regardless of income. That is how people really learn to belong. That is what public education does. We want people who will take their place in our society, but that means we must make sure there are no barriers to inclusion for people who come here.

So belonging is essential to us in Canada. We select our immigrants with the idea that they will become citizens. Immigrants are future citizens, and we recognize them as citizens in the making. As Aristotle said in Physics, “With respect to what is eternal, there is no difference between being possible and being.” New citizens take on the same responsibilities as existing citizens: obeying laws, paying taxes, voting. And once a new citizen is adopted into the family of fellow citizens, he must accept the good with the bad, both past and present, in order to contribute to and help shape the future. Canada is the land of our ancestors, as it says in our national anthem, and we are each and every one of us adopted by those ancestors. Newcomers are not invited to this country to spend a few years working, only to depart like migrants. Migrant is a very ugly word, and it should have no place in the Canadian vocabulary. Immigrant is the Canadian word. And citizenship is central to our immigration policy.

I truly believe that you can find a place to belong, as long as there is a negligible amount of force against you. I was lucky to come to this country, where we operate in an atmosphere of benevolent neglect: We are left alone to get on with our lives. This is where perseverance and generosity come in. Canadians are generous, even when they don’t know it. To me, this flexibility is the generosity that leads to gross national happiness, because it allows people to persevere through hard times and come out on the other side.

Refreshing recognition and advocacy of the efficacy and value of the more flexible, accommodative approach than the desire for more narrow and prescriptive Cartesian clarity.

Adrienne Clarkson on the anguish of not belonging.