‘Sharing Power’ Key to Disentangling Colonialism from Multiculturalism

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Bula Ghost speaks at the MCoS AGM with Kelsey Atceinson and Dr. Manuela Valle-Castro sitting to her right.

Laying the groundwork for real change

According to Dr. Manuela Valle-Castro — one of the panelists exploring how multiculturalism is entangled with colonialism at the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan’s AGM on June 22 — conversations about this intersection could take years to fully realize.

“The entanglements between multiculturalism and colonialism are something that we could talk about for exactly a week or more, maybe a year, because it’s such a huge entanglement,” she told the bustling room at La Troupe de Jour in Saskatoon, adding that multiculturalism exists because of a colonial state.

When asked what multiculturalism being entangled with colonialism means to her, she noted that binary thinking regarding colonialism is itself an element of colonialism.

“When people think decolonization, they mean ‘all the Europeans have to leave, Land back, we’re going back to pre-contact’ or something like that. Right?” Castro said, noting that, in reality, it’s about untying and dismantling European perspectives.

“What we mean when we say decolonization, is actually a world in where many world views can co-exist.

“The colonial thinking is having one dominant, invisible culture that we call the norm … and then kind of like, appreciating and consuming other cultures. Whereas what we’re thinking here, is kind of decentering British colonialism.

“If we are talking about colonialism as a process based on power, right? How can we think about a form of multiculturalism where people are not just invited to share their culture, but where we are actually sharing power.”

This idea of sharing power then takes multiculturalism from a place of having one central, visible culture. At the same time, others are presented as spectacles rather than having cultures co-exist in the same society. Another key she noted, referencing Eugene Arcand’s prayer and teachings about reconciliation at the start of the day, is honoring authentic acts of reconciliation.

“We do have responsibilities towards reconciliation, and reconciliation is not possible without truth and justice,” she said, noting that next year will be ten years since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s 94 Calls to Justice.

“We are accountable to those calls to action,” Valle-Castro said, adding that they serve as a road map to follow.

“Really, [we have] to remember those were not documents to sit on a desk or just to be a declaration of intentions.”

Eugene Arcand, speaking at MCoS’ AGM in Saskatoon, shares his thoughts about reconciliation in Canada after starting the event off in a good way with a prayer.

The Role of Authentic Reconciliation: Digging to the Root

As Kelsey Aitcheson, MCoS’ Regina ICARE Coordinator and fellow panelist, was driving to the AGM venue, she was busy thinking about something Arcand had mentioned in his opening prayer and comments.

“I am seeing a lot of our houseless kin out on the street, and 90 percent of them, if not more, are Indigenous,” Aitcheson — an urban member of the Standing Buffalo Dakota First Nation — said.

She’s often invited into these spaces, she noted, because an Indigenous perspective is required. She added she’s usually a tick in a check box for multicultural organizations.

“I am happy to share my experience. However, I … always have more questions than I do have answers. This is how we figure things out,” she added.

“How many times have you been in the presence of an Indigenous person because it was required through work? How many times have you taken the time to get to know Indigenous people within your community? How many times have you asked an Indigenous person to re-traumatize themselves so that you can understand?” she asked.

“I should also say, driving down 20th [Street] seeing all of the names of the buildings that have been changed to Indigenous words, I’m going to guess most of them are Cree — we are not all Cree — also I don’t have my language. You can change the name of a harm reduction facility to something Indigenous, a medical clinic to something Indigenous, a methadone clinic to something Indigenous; what is the root of the reason why you have to change a name to something Indigenous because it’s serving our community?” she asked.

She said that is where entanglements, reconciliation, and decolonization begin. Getting to the root of the problem, she noted, is vital.

“Why are 90 percent plus of our people out on the streets sleeping with tarps and dirty blankets right now? It’s deeper than that. We’re deeper than that.

“I’m educated, I’m very fortunate I have that privilege. However, there are people out on our street that have more education and experience than I do, but they are not welcome into this space because of who they are. I’m welcome into this space because I have a mother who is Indigenous who fought her … a** off to be taken serious professional, so that I can do the same.”

It’s questions and thinking patterns like those, she hoped, that got people to think about what change needs to happen.

Rhonda Rosenberg and Lisa Washinton sitting at a table, dark curtains behind them, as the busy table discusses different ways to disentangle colonization from multiculturalism.

Rhonda Rosenberg (MCoS Executive Director) and Lisa Washinton (former Board Director) pictured here at the 2024 AGM Education session in Saskatoon on June 22.

Using multiculturalism to share power with others

After Valle-Castro laid the groundwork for their discussion and Aitcheson shared a deeply personal presentation, Bula Ghosh said she wanted to talk about the entanglement of multiculturalism with colonialism from the perspective of an immigrant.

“I came from India, which was a [British] colony for 200 years … and even after 75 years of being independent,” she said, noting that British colonialism practices are sometimes ingrained into Indian culture.

“When I go to India now and see all these modern stores and departmental stores, the people serving are expected, women particularly, are expected to dress up in the western way: pants, and shirts, and jackets.

“This is not India.”

It’s a way, Ghosh explained, taking on colonial practices in an effort to gain the power present in a British Colonial society.

“I remember having a conversation in Edmonton with a family that came from Bangladesh,” she said. “And she was mentioning the pictures that she sees about Indigenous people, how it was scary to be out there,” Ghosh said, noting the often-negative portrayals of Indigenous people newcomers to Canada are often consuming.

“That’s what they said to me … and I had a big discussion with them at that time because I was getting slowly knowledgeable about the history of Canada, and how a certain group was oppressed.”

And while she notes that there have been improvements — the media doesn’t report the race of those committing crimes as often — here in Canada, we’re still not able to call ourselves a three-nation country of Indigenous, British, and French people.

“We have to fight for that.”

“We all have to be able to do things to make a difference, that reconciliation is our goal, but that will not happen without accepting the truth, working on it, and really showing it in our life,” she said, again the panel quoting Arcand.

She notes as an anecdote as she draws her talk to a close about a little comic hanging in her office. It features an HR Hiring Committee sharing thoughts about who should be hired: to find someone who looks diverse but thinks like us. In a nutshell, she says, this concept explains the idea of multiculturalism being entwined with colonialism.

“We have to use multiculturalism to share our power, it’s all about power and oppression … [and] reconciliation will never happen unless that economic power, the land, the resources are shared.”