4

Multiculturalism, Aboriginal rights and the nation

The term ‘multiculturalism’ entered politics in the 1970s—initially in Canada and the United States. The timing is significant. Cultural minorities have existed in almost all modern societies. Sometimes, as with the United States, these have been created by large-scale immigration; in other cases, minority or dissident cultural communities have successfully resisted the pressures towards cultural assimilation characteristic of modernisation. These minorities have almost always enjoyed a second-class status, perhaps tolerated as marginal curiosities and allowed to maintain their cultures as a private indulgence (like the minority religions with which they were often associated), but certainly not expected to take a place in public life alongside the dominant culture. However, after the Second World War, the increasing ease of travel, both within and between states, and the dramatic changes in communication and media, enabled members of minority cultures to keep in touch with each other despite geographical separation and immigrants to remain in contact with the cultures of their home countries. Minority groups were now better able both to resist assimilation and to mobilise in support of greater public recognition of their cultures. There is no doubt that, in the United States and the United Kingdom, an increased sensitivity to the racism which had been endemic to both societies helped create a climate in which the claims of non-racial cultural minorities began to receive a sympathetic hearing.

‘Multiculturalism’ is often used broadly to refer to the political claims of all cultural minorities. In this chapter, however, I will use the term more narrowly to refer to those issues which arise from the political claims of immigrant groups, that is of individuals, families and communities, who have moved from one country to another with the intention of becoming permanent members of the new country, but

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