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Field Reports of Toronto 2015: Native Canadians Research Group

[Photo 1]Native Canadian Centre

Toronto, where we visited for the summer school and fieldwork, is a city where half of the immigrant population in Canada reside. Through the two-week program in the University of Toronto, we experienced multiculturalism in Canada with our eyes and ears, and deepened our understanding of kyosei (coexistence) in Japan.

Our group focused on CLUSTER 1 of the program, the overview of History and Debates on Canadian Multiculturalism. This cluster included lectures on Canadian multiculturalism by Professor Bonnie McElhnny, class discussions, fieldwork in Regent Park, and a bus tour to the places linked with Native Canadians.

In the lectures, we learned how multiculturalism was established as a national policy in Canada. Various critiques were discussed that point to white supremacy in Canadian culture. While different ethnic and cultural groups are struggling to maintain their identities, the white culture is still dominant in Canadian society as a whole. We finally discussed through case studies how equality and equity among different groups of people could further be promoted in Canada.

[Photo 2]Native Canadian Trail Marker Tree

In the bus tour, we visited places associated with the lives of native Canadians. The Native Canadian Centre of Toronto, which we visited at the end of the tour, is a resource center promoting native Canadians. The tour guide told us that this center plays an important role for people, including the younger generations of native Canadians, to keep alive the history and culture of native Canadians. We interviewed some of the staff at the center. They told us about the difficulties in maintaining the history and culture of Native Canadians. For example, there is still discrimination against native Canadians although it is hardly reported by the mass media. Also, one of the interviewees said that he finds it difficult to get information about native Canadians and other groups of peoples such as whites and immigrants through his daily life, while he wishes to learn about native Canadians.

What we learned through the lectures and fieldwork made us wonder if multiculturalism in Canada is really working. Policies of multiculturalism in Canada tend to focus on immigrants, and they are made “visible” in contrast to the “invisible” whites. What is, then, the relative position of native Canadians in the contrast between “visible” immigrants and “invisible” whites? Aren’t native Canadians made invisible from the standpoint of the whites? Japanese society is facing a similar problem in which a particular group of people are being made visible through reflection in the Japanese “mirror”. For example, Minami Elementary School in Osaka deals with the invisibility of minority students. While they are made visible by the difference of their appearance and poor Japanese language skills, their needs to improve Japanese and maintain their mother languages tend to be ignored. The reason is because teachers tend to judge the needs of minority students from the standpoint of Japanese students, and expect minority students to “naturally” acquire Japanese language in the classroom. Minami Elementary School challenges this idea and prepares supplementary classes for minority students to catch up with Japanese language skills and express their own language and culture. The efforts of Minami Elementary School can be seen as attempts to deal with the invisibility of minority students by responding to their real needs.

[Photo 3]Native Canadian Loon Call (Bird Whistle)

We observed the invisibility of native Canadians when we discovered the majority of the population in Canada do not pay much attention to them, even though some of them are making an effort to communicate their history and culture to the world. However, the problem of invisibility cannot simply be attributed to indifference to native Canadians. The essential heart of the problem, we believe, is the lack of opportunities for self-expression and the acceptance of others. In this sense, anyone can be invisible, and this is not just the problem of native Canadians. This viewpoint of invisibility makes it possible to think about kyosei (coexistence) of people with various social and cultural backgrounds in Japan. As attempts by native Canadians to express themselves are the first steps to start mutual communications with other people and enable them to become visible and accepted, efforts by the Minami Elementary School have the potential to enable minority students to become visible through self-expression.


(July 7, 2015, Choi Jonghwan, Cui Meishan, Hadano Nozomi, Ryo Tanaka)

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