How Multiculturalism Can Go Wrong

It takes more than welcoming members of Indigenous societies into a box reserved for heads of state to prove you’re a multicultural nation, even if that can be all it takes to convince people of it.

Native performers. 2010 Olympics

Native performers at the 2010 Toronto Olympics opening ceremony

In his article, “A Portrait of This Country,” Nathan Kalman-Lamb argues that “[u]ltimately, the [2010 Toronto Olympic opening] ceremonies are a performance of white pride and hegemony” (Kalman-Lamb 24). The article was published in the 2012 Spring edition of TOPIA, so two years after the ceremonies themselves. As Kalman-Lamb understands it, this ceremony is used by Canada to portray Indigenous people as the nation’s origin, thus firmly rooting them as a multicultural society, and that frees them to portray the modern Canada in whiteness without the need to display or acknowledge the other non-white people of Canada. Kalman-Lamb employs numerous essays and articles to push his points that the Olympic opening ceremonies have become a way for host countries to dramatize their cultural identity and that Indigenous people, unlike other minorities in Canada threaten the multicultural image of the nation by being able to point out that they “continue to be a colonized population” (Kalman-Lamb 14). He also points out that the recognition of First Nations in the beginning of the ceremony is insidious in that it puts forth a narrative Indigenous people being part of the past and complicit with their current situation.

Canadian fiddlers during the 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony

After an Indigenous opening, a celebration of diversity in whiteness overtakes the ceremony

There was one essential difference I noticed in the ceremonies in comparison to Kalman-Lamb’s analysis. During the transition from Indigenous to white Canadians, totem poles rise up and become trees (olympicvancouver2010). While I wasn’t aware of the history of their appropriation and it certainly makes me look at the moment differently, I thought it was significant that faces upon the totems cried before they turned into trees. Kalman-Lamb describes this “perpetuating the national fantasy of association between Indigeneity and wilderness,” but while that may be true, I also took it as admitting, in some small way, the pain felt by Indigenous people and the cause of it (Kalman-Lamb 18). And while I did pick up on the sensation of wrongness of the First Nations’ part in the ceremony and the lack of representation of other minorities, I didn’t realize to what extent the ceremony was choreographed to justify that wrongness.

 

Works Cited

“Complete Vancouver 2010 Opening Ceremony – Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.” YouTube, uploaded by olympicvancouver2010, 11 April 2010, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxZpUueDAvc

Kalman-Lamb, Nathan. “‘A Portrait of This Country’: Whiteness, Indigeneity, Multiculturalism and the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies.” TOPIA, no. 27, Spring 2012, pp. 5-27, https://topia.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/topia/article/view/35266/32918. Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.

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One thought on “How Multiculturalism Can Go Wrong

  1. I really enjoyed reading this blog post because you’re opening sentence served its purpose, and reeled me in: “It takes more than welcoming members of Indigenous societies into a box reserved for heads of state to prove you’re a multicultural nation, even if that can be all it takes to convince people of it”. This opening sentence resonated with me because it is an accurate reflection of my initial response to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. I too felt as if though the entire rationale behind having the Indigenous perform at the Opening Ceremony was to allow Canada to maintain their ‘multicultural’ image. As a result, I agree with Kalman-Lamb’s analysis that it was of strategic planning to limit the performances of the Indigenous to the beginning of the ceremony and make them invisible towards the ending of the performance. Given this, Canada is able to display their “white pride and hegemony” (Kalman-Lamb 24). The question you posed about the crying of the totems before they transformed into trees was a new observation for me. Given this case, do you think, out of guilt, that this was their way of adding some accuracy in the narrative of the peaceful and compliant relationship between that of the Natives and Canadian settlers?

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