Who’s Invited: A Look into Canada’s ‘Model’ Immigration Policy and Treatment of Indigenous People

A picture of the Canadian flag
Roxann Yus 

Canada’s immigration policy is often touted as a model for other countries due to its reputation for welcoming immigrants and valuing multiculturalism. But beneath Canada’s sparkling pose on the international stage, there is an ongoing discourse about the treatment of indigenous communities. Who is really invited into the privilege of Canada’s social and cultural politics? Is multiculturalism merely forward-thinking with the tendency to leave peoples behind? Roxann Yus explores the relative importance of domestic and international policies regarding Canada’s diverse ethnic landscape and whether we should turn our focus toward forgotten invitations.

Disclaimer: “Peoples” (in plural) is the politically correct way of discussing multiple indigenous communities. 

The first time I recognised how renowned Canada’s immigration policy was, in fact, by watching Canada’s Drag Race. It was so insightful to hear queens from India, Jamaica, and beyond discuss how grateful they are for Canada and its tolerance and kindness. 

One queen even said that when asked, she will say she is Canadian through and through, despite growing up in a completely different culture.

And I believe that looking at the treatment of marginalised groups in society, such as queer people of colour, is a valid way to measure the justice of an institution. 

Although this is a very small sample of both queer and POC people in Canada, as well as Canadian immigrants as a whole, it must be noted that the statistics back all of this up.

Canada has one of the highest naturalisation rates in the world: about 85% of newcomers become citizens. 

Perhaps Canada’s “friendly” stereotype is at play here – they have numerous buddy schemes, charities, and job sectors eagerly awaiting newcomers.

And beneath that, Canada is, at its core, a multicultural and diverse nation with two official languages, and of course, our topic at hand, many indigenous peoples with unique languages and cultures.

However, many indigenous languages are endangered. Only 0.6% of the Canadian population speak an indigenous language as their mother tongue. Two of Canada’s territories actually give official status to native languages, but this is where modern, westernised law comes into conflict with indigenous lifestyle.

In 2007, Canada was one of four countries that voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

There is a constant pressure in Western society to label things, put people into boxes to understand them, to simplify and monopolise the world, its cultures, traditions, and languages. 

With 70+ indigenous languages in Canada, it is certainly unreasonable by Western standards to have them all as official languages. 

So, we’re left with choosing the most “important” and “widely-spoken”, instead of recognising that statistics are irrelevant to culture, and officiality is simply adverse to custom.

When people migrate to Canada, they are aware that their first language will more likely than not never be an official language. However, under the guise of progression and wider budgets, indigenous communities are “compensated” for the dissolution of their cultures and languages. 

Dubbed as a plan for a “More Inclusive Economy” in the budget this year, indigenous peoples are promised investment in housing, the improvement of mental health services, and support for indigenous-led projects, among many other things, yet are only offered $76.3 million, instead of the relative $1.8 billion that 5% of the population should statistically be entitled to.

To be frank, I am no mathematician. Nor an economist. I understand that many budgets serve larger-than-ordinary-life projects like militaries and space exploration, so the maths above is of course only relevant for a less monopolistic and capitalistic world. 

However, with these figures in mind, $4.5 billion is spent on Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship plans for 2023.

There is a clear disparity between the funding here. But a bigger disparity? Canada’s Naturalization Act which required immigrants to live in Canada for five years, possess adequate knowledge of French or English, and exhibit good moral character was introduced in 1914. 

Yet, nearly 100 years later in 2007, Canada was one of four countries that voted against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This discrepancy in approach to “unwhite”, “westernised” cultures is shocking.

They still lack a lot of mainstream representation and face a lot of discrimination and judgement by those outside of these communities.

This discrepancy could likely be due to international reputation. The world wants to know how you’d treat their people if they decide to travel or move there. 

Countries also want strong connections and alliances with each other – a great way to secure that is through easy mobility. 

Another factor is employment – some indigenous communities may not engage in westernised employment and lifestyle; therefore, international workers appear very ideal. 

And overall, throughout and beyond industrialisation into globalisation and digitalisation, having a global workforce makes a company look extremely attractive.

But throughout these modernising processes, we are leaving people behind. Of course, indigenous peoples aren’t completely forgotten about, but their invitation to the privileges of Canada can be half-hearted. 

They still lack a lot of mainstream representation and face a lot of discrimination and judgement by those outside of these communities.

It is fundamental to look for cracks in “perfection” and think critically about what diversity means in the modern world.

Yes, migration is a brilliant measure for this, but peoples do not have to move to be valued for their diversity.

Roxann Yus

Featured image courtesy of Hermes Rivera via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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