Multiculturalism Gone Wrong

Nathan Kalman-Lamb’s article, “‘A Portrait of This Country’: Whiteness, Indigeneity, Multiculturalism and the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies” was published in TOPIA (2012), two years after the Vancouver Olympic Opening Ceremonies. In his article, Kalman-Lamb analyzes the role of Indigeneity in Canada. The article distinguishes between the use of Indigeneity as a way of uniting the country through multiculturalism, and of showing Indigeneity’s exotic-ness, which divides the country. By revealing that indigenous cultures are now considered “exotic” in Canada, the opening ceremonies portrays a generalized, White, Canadian culture that does not include the practices of indigenous people.

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Kalman-Lamb brings up Prime Minister Trudeau’s attempts to focus on Canada’s multiculturalism. He says, “multiculturalism has been a central component of Canadian identity since Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau governed the country in the 1970s and 1980s” (6). The article suggests that Canada attempts to portray its emphasis on multiculturalism, that has been a priority for the past 40 years. However, the article states that the Opening Ceremonies do not show the role of Indigeneity in everyday Canadian culture. It states, “moreover, the use of Indigeneity as a symbol of a history of multiculturalism permits the nation to perform its present and future as white” (16). From this perspective, Indigeneity is not encompassed in Canadian culture, but is an outdated part of Canadian history.

Furthermore, Kalman-Lamb’s article continues to reflect the idea that indigenous peoples of the opening ceremonies are not included in the general Canadian culture. By the end of the ceremony,  the “Indigenous presence disappears” (17). The indigenous peoples are recognized only as a way of shifting from a historical indigenous Canadian culture to a modern-day white Canadian culture.

Additionally, Kalman-Lamb states that certain populations of Canadians, such as the Chinese and Indian Canadians, are brought up when the Chinese and Indian teams enter the stadium. By specifically addressing them and comparing them to China and India, the commentators “[position the Chinese Canadian and Indian Canadian populations] as outsiders, underlining their difference from normative whiteness and their consequently precarious status in the nation” (11). This outsider perspective makes the Indigenous people stand apart from the rest of Canada.

From this perspective, Canada wants to recognize the differences of its many inhabitants, while also maintaining  warm relationships with them. That is why Canada actively has the Host Nations welcoming people to the Olympics. Kalman-Lamb’s article reminds the audience that what the opening ceremonies leaves out is that “of the 203 Aboriginal bands in British Columbia, eighty refused to participate in the games” (21). It is impossible for Canada to appear a shining light of multiculturalism if it acknowledges that eighty Aboriginal bands were upset by its actions.
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This article makes me question the role of the Host Nations that welcomed people to the Olympics. Did the Host Nations support all elements of the Olympics? Or were the Host Nations told how to act and informed, rather than asked, that the Olympics would use their land for certain events? Was the power left with the Host Nations, or with Canada?

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Works Cited

Kalman-Lamb, Nathan. “‘A Portrait of This Country’: Whiteness, Indigeneity, Multiculturalism and the Vancouver Opening Ceremonies.” TOPIA, no. 27, 2012, pp. 5-27, https://topia.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/topia/article/view/35266/32918. Accessed 6 March 2018.

2 thoughts on “Multiculturalism Gone Wrong

  1. I really liked your post!

    After finishing reading you post I agreed with most of you points. I thought the way you contrasted multiculturalism as a word implying unity and a word implying exoticness was really interesting. In my post I wrote about the false unity that the word multiculturalism implies. I did not go further into exploring the appeal of something exotic. You inquiry into the word exotic makes me wonder what harm being called exotic or referred to as an exotic race has on Native people. There is the obvious backlash of dehumanizing, and disrespect but I wonder on a personal level how Native histories have changed in response to white Canadians calling Natives exotic.

    I also thought that your attention to the Host Nations was interesting and I also touched on them in my post. There is a sense of purity behind white Canadians trying to include Host Nations but as you quoted there were only four nations represented and this attempt was ultimately a failure. Like Kalman-Lamb I wish Canada used Opening Ceremony to the fullest potential as it was a “crucial moment of nation-building and representation for the Canadian nation” (5).It is true that it is basically impossible to represent an entire nation, respect foreign nations and all of the people within one’s nation in one Opening Ceremony but the lack of representation for more than four Host Nations seems almost like an easy fix. I think that in order to change or better the ceremony there should have been more Indigenous people, more nations or the approach to recognizing Indigenous people should have been different. Personally, I think without having the host nations “welcome” other it would have made the ceremony less dominant vs. inferior and would have made the relations between Indigenous and white Canadians a little smoother. This is not that there should be a cover up for past conflicts but I think the attempt to mend relations through four host nations is almost foolish and sets Indigenous people back.

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