Student Experience Office hosts panel to explore Canadian identity

Queen’s Reads presents ‘What does it mean to be Canadian?’ discussion in light of Canada 150

Panelists discuss Canadian identity in Wallace Hall on Wednesday.

On Wednesday night, dozens of students and staff gathered in the JDUC for a discussion on “What does it mean to be Canadian? Exploring identity in light of Canada 150.”

The panel event was hosted by the Queen’s Reads program, which operates within the Student Experience Office. 

Faculty members on the panel included assistant education professor Lee Airton, global development studies professor Robert Lovelace, geography professor Audrey Kobayashi and history professor Barrington Walker.

Thomas Dymond, Med ’20 and former AMS Deputy Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs Lauren Winkler, Law ’19 sat on the panel as well. 

Over the course of an hour, these six shared their definition is for Canadian identity, as well as their diverse perspectives on multiculturalism, Indigenous culture, education and equity at Queen’s. 

They began by addressing the complexity of defining Canadian identity. Winkler approached this issue by keeping Indigenous culture in mind.

“I don’t think we can even come to this question of what it means to be Canadian without first respecting the people at whose expense we are now thriving off this land,” she said. 

Airton expressed the importance of acknowledging and understanding the uncertainty which results from the wide spectrum of diversity and identity in Canada.

“Being Canadian for me is a sense of having a great critical ambivalence about my country, and moving from that ambivalence into action,” she said.

The panel also discussed the problems of Canadian multiculturalism. Kobayashi touched on the reality of multiculturalism and how it affects society.

“Indigenous peoples are outside the multicultural rubric. Islam is outside the multicultural rubric,” she said. “Multiculturalism has become the vehicle for a hierarchy of inclusion,” she said.

Walker talked about how multiculturalism has become a tool for racist objectification in Canada.

“One of the problems with multiculturalism is that a lot of it is symbolic and very easily feeds into neo-liberal ideas about differences that are easily commodified,” he said. “It’s deeply problematic.”

The panel finished by discussing the inconsistencies of Canadian education — both at large and specific to Queen’s — concerning past and current injustices performed by the federal state.  

“Half of [geographical] Canada is occupied by a majority population of Aboriginal people, and most Canadian provinces refuse to teach anything about it,” Lovelace said. “Young people need to start a class action suit against the province for such a deficit in their education.”

Winkler, who has experienced the lack of Indigenous presence in many Queen’s classrooms, identified this deficit as a significant problem on campus. 

“At Queen’s, we have a lot more to do in terms of presenting Indigenous content and having Indigenous voice,” she said. “As an Indigenous student, there’s nothing more important to me than hearing an Indigenous person teach me something.”

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