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The identity of Canadians relies on certain features and codes established, ratified, and embraced for years (Morton, 1972). The major influences on the identity of Canadians started in the early 1800s. At that time, the French immigrants arrived at Acadia and the River valleys of St. Lawrence. Also, the English began colonizing Newfoundland.
These factors together with the conquest of the British and their settlement in the modern France during the 18th century resulted immensely in the development of Canadian identity. This occurred through their roles in contributing to the exploration of the region. These nations continue to have lots of influence on the identity of Canadians through their cultures and arts.
There are lots of debates on the true identity of Canadians. Some people argue that Canadians do not have true identity, and their identity has not yet evolved ever since 1867. However, others also believe that there is a real identity. This essay explores if lack of identity is a true phenomenon in Canada. In addition, the question of Canada’s cultural evolution since 1867 is discussed.
Do Canadians have true identity?
There are three important issues that conventionally surround the debate on the true identity of Canadians. The first one is the commonly disputed relationship that exists between the French and the English Canadians. This emerges from the survival of cultures as well as languages.
Usually, there is also a close connection between the British Empire and the English Canadians. This results in a slow political process that completes liberalization from the imperial powers. Lastly, the English-speaking Canadians have very close ties to the economic, cultural, and military center of the U.S. (Morton, 1972).
In the 20th century, there were strong cultural and political links to Britain. This resulted in the wave of immigrants from Europe, Africa, Asia and Caribbean. Consequently, the identity of Canadians has been reforming, and the process continues to the present, owing to the enduring arrival of several settlers whose backgrounds are neither French nor British.
Therefore, multiculturalism also arises in the discussion. Multiculturalism is defined as a strategy of upholding a variety of different cultures within a community (Driedger, 1996). The government of Canada accepts people from different cultural backgrounds. However, it necessitates that the cultural practices from different communities do not affect fundamental freedoms or the customs of fellow inhabitants.
This implies the negotiations between various cultures in most cases. It is challenging to preserve multiculturalism within a community if the ethnicities oppose and influence one another.
Currently, Canada has different people with different cultures and of various nationalities. In addition, the policies of the constitution also encourage multiculturalism instead of just one national belief. There are lots of questions that are still debatable on the subject of Canadian identity.
It continues to frustrate and animate not only writers and historians but also statesmen, philosophers and artists. The issue has lacked clear description, and even the quest for true Canadian identity remains a subject of self-deprecation.
It could be true that Canadians do not have true identity. The people of Canada often incline to identify themselves with the community and region instead of their nation. The identity of Canadians is molded by different ethics and attitudes since the country has unlimited diversity of cultures due to its history and location.
The idea of multiculturalism as well as bilingualism is very vital to the formation and development of identity. These factors support and challenge Canadians as well. The interaction of various cultures and communities within Canada affects an individual. Contradicting opinions about Canada by its own people and even other nations show that indeed they lack real identity.
When a citizen of Canada is asked his or her nationality, there is no clear response as an individual can answer Scottish, German or Ukrainian. The major explanation to this can be that Canadians do not identify themselves as discrete Canadians.
It is important to identify a common notion that helps identify Canadian people rather than isolate them with their respective areas of origin. Instead of inclining to identification by the place or community, Canadians need to identify themselves with the nation and their country, which is Canada. There is also excessive variety of values and traditions in Canada, making it difficult for the citizens to identify themselves with one another.
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The present culture of Canadians has been shaped mainly by the many aboriginal cultures. They had been established before the Europeans arrived to North America. Normally, the different cultures were highly incorporated and universal, implying that their views towards politics, artistic as well as spiritual scopes of life were interconnected.
These people formed a very rich part of culture in Canada that is impossible to separate. According to Penny Petrone, telling stories, which is referred to aboriginal culture, was a very important instrument for conveying artistic principles though it was not driven by the current western idea (Diakiw, 2011).
There were policies of the government during the period of colonization to strip off the aboriginal immigrants of their land, theoretically to protect them by employing reserve system. However, trying to integrate them into foreign culture through teaching initially had serious influence on aboriginal cultures. The common cultural practices as well as the local identity have been completely eroded.
In some cases, these cultural practices and identity have been lost as a result of the policies of relegation, integration and de-legitimation. This completely discouraged the aboriginal people, both individually and communally. Several languages have practically vanished.
In addition, a lot of cultural values and norms have been forgotten. For instance, the Beothuk of Newfoundland has completely vanished. However, the aboriginal ways of life continue to exist though they have been influenced much by the Euro-Canadian culture.
However, currently, growing standards of education incorporation with political firmness, the restoration of aboriginal superiority, and regeneration of culture have tremendously increased.
Many inhabitants have prioritized learning of language because they believe that they should make fast steps towards capturing the retentions of their elders. Inherent ceremonies that involve dances and drumming increasingly become successful, and this attracts even foreign contestants.
Most aborigines strive to create these customs according to the European-based systems and norms all together. This has certainly molded the modern situation. In addition, sensitivity towards ethnic rights and customs continues to rise amongst the non-aboriginals not only as expressions of autonomy but also as main aspects of the broader identity of Canadian culture.
Has there been evolution of Canadian identity since 1867?
Even though the subject of multiculturalism have been deciphered into the Canadian legislation as well as their policies regarding education, linguistic and institutional privileges of their provinces and clear backgrounds are hard to define. Some of the laws in Canada could be blamed for promoting multiculturalism amongst the people of Canada.
For instance, in the year 1774, Quebec act was enacted in Canada. This act legally accepted the practice of Catholic religious conviction. In addition, it documented the seigniorial system in Quebec. In 1841, the union act, which acknowledged the coexistence of two different Canadian colonies, was again passed. Together with the Constitution Act of 1867, these acts promoted the values of multiculturalism (Richard, 2000).
These acts defined the influences of not only the federal state but also the Canadian provinces. Therefore, the acts determined some of the important particulars of Quebec, where the majority were French Canadians. In addition, regulations that governed civil laws were established.
Finally, in relation to education, which is a provincial domain, there was an act that certified public funds to promote confessional schools. The article also safeguarded the religious subgroups in Quebec. Paradoxically, this article was pressed for by the Quebec English Protestants.
They were afraid that Quebec French Catholics could exceed them in number and consequently overpower them. Later, the French Catholics in other parts of Canada also tried to use the same article to protect themselves for the same reason against the English Canadians; however, they gained minimal benefits from it.
According to the legislation on Quebec language, bills 22 and 101, children of certain communities, especially those of the settlers, have been forced to go to French schools, though the regulation has not yet changed the denominational organization in Montreal or even the communal aid of secluded, religious or cultural schools in Quebec.
These are evidences of tries to reveal the origins of multiculturalism in Canada since different communities with different backgrounds would be allowed to integrate easily. In the long run, this resulted in unclear cultural identity of Canadians that people are unable to identify themselves with.
In most cases, it is believed that Canada was founded as a state by commercial entrepreneurs and railway proprietors who wanted a central government that they could use to help them settle and exploit the nation. However, according to the others, particularly French Canadians, association was founded in order to create a new state that would be free from England.
It was assumed that the two instituting groups were to live together. However, the constitutional rights and freedoms of the Catholic French Canadians who were living outside Quebec were neither stated, denied nor disregarded.
In most cases, French Catholic schools have never been supported by public funds. The French was not allowed to be admitted to the communal schools, and the overall integration into the British or Anglo-Canadian domain was viewed as the only means of survival for both the settlers and the French Canadians (Bramadat & Seljak, 2009).
The Royal commission on multiculturalism and multiple languages revealed some of the challenges faced by the French-speaking people and other minorities in Canada in the 1960s. In the year 1969, the official languages’ act was enacted.
This formally made Canada a multiple linguistic country. As a result, there were measures put forward to allow services in the French federal administration to be conducted in different languages.
By the year 1971, the government of Canada embraced the multiculturalism policy in the framework of many languages. Lastly, the 1982 constitutional act asserted some of the values of ethical differentiation.
Actually, the Canadian regulation, regarding their rights and privileges, pushes forward for the right of fairness and prohibits any form of discrimination. With these historical developments, it is evident that multiculturalism was formally accepted by the government of Canada. These, however, has completely ruined the true identity of Canadians.
The two approved languages of Canada were French and English. These two languages were considered to have equal power in all Canadian government institutions. In addition, the law also safeguards the rights and privileges of all the different ethnic groups to be taught in their native languages.
Also, minority schools can be able to access financial aid through public funds, and it affirms that it does not alter or amend any kind privileges and entitlements that are guaranteed under the Canadian charter with regard to distinct or denominational schools.
However, there has been a lot of debate on how multiculturalism, which interferes with the true identity of Canadians, should really manifest itself. Some people argue that both the French and the English should have an equal chance of representation in all the languages of the community at all the stages of the federal system.
This can also imply that each and every federal unit of Canadian government should have two individuals, both the French- and the English-speaking. There are also strong arguments for equal distribution of opportunities to all the ethnic communities in Canada. Such opportunities can be economic, political, social and educational.
Most Canadians of French background are confident that multiple cultures identify their uniqueness and their privileges, while other people believe it is not true since the US took over from the British.
Some of the French Canadian inhabitants also appreciate that languages are important as this promotes cultural rights and privileges. Nonetheless, the English-speaking Canadians hold a contradictory opinion towards multiculturalism. According to them, the main language of Canada should be English.
Currently, several Canadian immigrants would agree that Canada should be an English-speaking nation. They also claim that the relationship between Canadians and Americans should be promoted since the two nations have common cultural practices and also due to the economic progress of the United States.
There are some Canadians who oppose against multiculturalism idea so because they believe it compromises their true identity (Bramadat & Seljak, 2009). The first people that inhabited Canada also stress that they have not been involved in the politics as well as the social aspects of the country.
As such, it is possible to conclude their native languages and culture have not been incorporated into the Canadian identity. At the same time, the French-speaking Canadians are also against multiculturalism policy as they deliberate that it does not identify their identity.
The identity of Canadians is characterized by so many different cultures and practices. Multiculturalism has been embraced and plays a very important role in the development and formation of identity. After World War II, the policies that support multiculturalism in Canada have been embraced and become effective in attracting several cultural practices in the country.
Contrary to other nations, the acceptance of multiculturalism has been very successful in Canada. Actually, the current Canadian policies with regard to multiculturalism have loosened over the years. Policies that are implemented are geared towards integration rather than discrimination (Resnick, 2005)..
Before the close of the Second World War in 1945, there was a settlement in Canada, particularly by Germans, Chinese, Indians and Japanese. The government of Canada anticipated for its main policy on settlement into Canada in 1885. For instance, the ‘Chinese Head Tax’ regulation was enacted to screen the devastating number of the Chinese settled down in Canada.
According to this new regulation, the Chinese settlers were obliged to pay some fee to get into the country. In 1904, this fee, which had been 50 dollars, increased immensely to 500 dollars.
Ten years after, another unfair act was articulated directed at Indian settlers. All the 376 immigrants who had genuine British passports were not allowed to enter Canada. Those could be viewed as attempts by Canadian government to discourage immigrants to come to the country.
Statistics of the general social survey of Canada conducted between 1982 and 2001 revealed that above 40% of the Canada arrivals had their own unique religions as compared to the aboriginal settlers in Canada who constituted 2% of the total population. One of the fastest developing religions in Canada was Islam.
One could easily draw to a conclusion that immigration in Canada resulted in Canada becoming more religion-oriented. This makes it very vital for Canada to safeguard and maintain the multicultural traditions on its people. Even though several cultural practices have been emerging in Canada, protection of the traditions that had already existed must have been practiced (Schwartz, 1967).
Cultural nationalism is term used to mean protection and support of any kind in terms of Canadian culture. If the Canadian government offers more support to the immigrants with regard to the development of the culture, it will definitely become more creative in advancing a unique culture. However, if the government does not control the ethnic practices in Canada, multiculturalism will continue to destroy the true identity of Canadians.
Strong nations that surround Canada like the USA will continue influencing the Canadian culture since they want to promote their culture within Canada as well. It is the fundamental role of the government to develop and protect its own culture. This will result in a distinctive culture that will facilitate the formation and development of Canadian identity.
In conclusion, it is true that Canada is influenced by stronger nations around them, especially the United States, Great Britain and France. As a result, their language and Canadian cultural practices used to identify them are difficult to recognize. Some people believe that there are still cultural practices that could be used to identify Canada.
However, from Canadian history and their legislations, it is evident that their ethnic practices have incorporated so many different cultures. This makes it difficult to identify the true identity of Canadians. It is vital for Canada to develop, promote and preserve its own culture since this will give Canadians some sense of patriotism.
Promoting and preserving culture will not only help bring the people of Canada together but will also give them something they can hold and relate to. This is important in Canada since it has a relatively small population as compared to the rest countries of the same size. Therefore, many different cultures could come from other nations. The result can be a complete loss of true Canadian identity.
Bramadat, P. & Seljak, D. (2009). Multiculturalism in Canada. Toronto. University of Toronto Press.
Diakiw, J. (2011). Canadian Culture and National Identity: The School’s Role in Debating and Discussing the Roots of our National Identity. Munich: Grin Verlag
Driedger, L. (1996). Multi-ethnic Canada: identities and inequalities. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
Morton, W. (1972). The Canadian Identity. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.
Resnick, P. (2005). The European roots of Canadian identity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Richard, J. (2000). Multiculturalism and the History of Canadian Diversity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press
Schwartz, M. (1967). Public Opinion and Canadian Identity. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press