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Friday, November 21, 2008

New award for multiculturalism announced

The Canadian government is honouring the memory of the "father of multiculturalism" with the annual Senator Paul Yuzyk Award for Multiculturalism, which will be presented each year to an individual or an organization that has demonstrated excellence in promoting the multiculturalism for which Senator Yuzyk stood.

The announcement was made by Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism at the Canadian Club in Winnipeg on Nov. 13, 2008.

Yuzyk was undoubtedly inspired by the prescient words of Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir (John Buchan), who in 1936 told a Manitoba audience from the Ukranian community that “You will all be better Canadians for being also good Ukrainians.”

Paul Yuzyk paid tribute to the French and British founding, and the Aboriginal peoples who were here before. But he added, in his maiden speech in the Senate in 1964, that “with the setting up of other ethnic groups, which now make up almost a third of the population, Canada has become multicultural in fact.”

He became known as the “father of multiculturalism.”

Today, to perpetuate his memory, and to strengthen the vision of “unity in diversity” to which he was so devoted, I am pleased to announce that the government is creating the annual Paul Yuzyk Award, which will be presented each year to an individual or organization that has demonstrated excellence in promoting the multiculturalism for which he stood..

The full transcript of Kenney's speech can be found here.)

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress sent out a press release today welcoming the award.

"Senator Yuzyk is widely regarded as the chief architect of Canada's multiculturalism policy and it is fitting that this award be established in his memory," said Paul Grod, President of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Senator Yuzyk was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, becoming the first Ukrainian Canadian to achieve this honour. He served in Canada's Upper Chamber for 23 years, until his death in 1986. Senator Yuzyk was born in 1913 in Pinto, Saskatchewan. His encounters with discrimination as a young teacher in search of a teaching position, which he was denied because he was a 'foreigner,' forged his determination to seek recognition for non-British, non-French-Canadian citizens. In his maiden speech in the Senate, entitled "Canada: A Multicultural Nation" he voiced the concerns of many ethnic groups that Canadians must accept the fact that Canada is not a country of two solitudes. Multiculturalism was the subject of rancorous debate until 1971, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau introduced an official policy of multiculturalism.

"Our community eagerly awaits the announcement of further details and looks forward to honouring the first recipient of this award," said Grod. "We commend Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney, for recognizing the contribution of Senator Yuzyk to Canada."

One of the things that struck me in Kenney's speech is the emphasis on how well Ukrainians have integrated into mainstream Canadian society. While I appreciate the kind words, as someone who can be considered a "born-again Ukrainian," I see this high praise as somewhat of a "positive spin" on past societal pressures to assimilate. Especially since there was no mention made of them, or the personal consequences suffered by many Ukrainian Canadians... particularly those by Sen. Yuzyk.

But aside from that, I had a bit of a deja vu feeling. Back in about 1991, I recall his Conservative predecessor, Gerry Weiner, saying his government was getting away from funding support for "3D multiculturalism" ... the 3 D's standing for "diet, dress and dance." Kenney just used a different alliteration and a warmer, fuzzier delivery for what seems to be essentially the same message and overall philosophy. (Which, I might add, the Liberals were all too happy to adopt as their own.)

Some have said that the multiculturalism of the 1970’s was about food and folklore.

Now, as you can tell, I’ve had my share of great ethnic cuisine. And we all get a kick out of celebrations like Winnipeg’s famous Folkorama. (Prime Minister Harper certainly enjoyed his visit to the Filipino pavilion this year).

But today Canada’s cultural communities are strong enough to stand on their own, and showcase what’s best about their cultures, without depending on government handouts.

And today many of those communities are so robust that there may be a temptation amongst some new Canadians to stay within their familiar social and cultural networks, rather than venturing out into our broader society. Staying within what academics call “ethnic enclaves.”

But that would impoverish us all. It would be like a Folkorama where everyone just stays put in their own pavilions, all the time. And that wouldn’t be much fun.

But having criss-crossed this great country; having attended hundreds of events and talked to thousands of new Canadians, I am certain of this: we all want a multiculturalism that builds bridges, not walls, between communities.

We want a Canada where we can celebrate our different cultural traditions, but not at the expense of sharing common Canadian traditions.

Well, if "Canada’s cultural communities are strong enough to stand on their own" these days ... particularly the Ukrainian community, it's certainly not due to a lot of "government handouts" in the past for "food and folklore" type of celebrations.

It would be nice if that little fact were acknowledged ... and perhaps that stronger government support of Canada's cultural communities (including ethnic ones) might help along that integration process today that he is calling for. A warmer, fuzzier approach to encouraging assimilation, perhaps. And that, I think, would be a good thing.

But lest I be accused of "looking a gift horse in the mouth" I tip my hat to minister Kenney and prime minister Harper for the commendable gesture of creating this award. To their credit, this government has so far been much kinder to Canada's Ukrainian commmunity than previous ones have been.


Anonymous said...

Another great article from you Pawlina. I heard now much Ukrainian community done for the multiculturalism as official ideology of Canada back in 50-th. But I never heard about Hon. Senator Yuzyk before reading this article. Thank you for bringing up this prominent subject.

Pawlina said...

You're welcome, Stan. Glad you found it interesting.

Perhaps this award will start to change mainstream Canadian indifference toward the historical contributions of Ukrainians to our own country as well as the world.

That indifference may explain at least in part why you had not heard of Senator Yuzyk before now.

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