Identity and Diversity: Ukranian Canadians, Canada and Globalization's Challenge. (Parliament Tackles Terror)

By Kordan, Bohdan S. | Canadian Speeches, September-October 2001 | Go to article overview
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Identity and Diversity: Ukranian Canadians, Canada and Globalization's Challenge. (Parliament Tackles Terror)


Kordan, Bohdan S., Canadian Speeches


Nearly 97% of Ukranian Canadians were born in Canada, have little identity with the "homeland," but mirror a Canadian identity: urban, professional middle-class, above average education. So is a separate identity needed or possible? The case is made for a cultural identity rooted in heritage and history as a guide to the future in an increasing homogenized world. And the challenge of maintaining a community identity within Canada mirrors the challenge of maintaining a Canadian identity in a globalized world. Speech to a conference on "Canada, Diversity and Globalization," organized in conjunction with the annual meeting of the National Association of Canadian Clubs, Saskatoon, September 29, 2001.

Ukrainian Canadians are unquestionably an integral part of the Canadian social fabric. According to the 1996 Canada Census, of the 1,026,470 Canadians who identified with their Ukrainian origins, the vast majority are native born; only 64,330 of this number are immigrants or slightly more than 3% of the total. This is an important fact because as part of a historically established

community, Ukrainian Canadians have roots in other communities. In this regard, it is useful to note that in 1996 of the million plus Ukrainian Canadians, 694,790 of these individuals identified not only with their Ukrainian origin but other origins as well -- claiming in effect multiple origins. This number represents a full 68% of the total. From this perspective, the Ukrainian Canadian community, I would argue, is no longer one that is defined by traditional notions of ethnic identity, that is to say, blood ties, language, or other cultural characteristics. Rather the "new" Ukrainian Canadian is a distinctive class of individual: someone who differs from their ancestors in their social, cultural and psychological make-up.

The "new" Ukrainian Canadian represents a departure from traditional ideas about who are the Ukrainian Canadians. The quaint yet anachronistic description of Ukrainians as "stalwart men in sheepskin coats" -- a description that remarkably continues to be referenced by federal ministers or their representatives in public statements -- is as meaningful an observation today as that of references to pre-industrial Canada -- hewers of wood and drawers of water -- in any serious discussion about the nature of contemporary Canada. With only minor differences the "new" Ukrainian Canadian mirrors the Canadian norm: urban, professional, middle-class, with above average education, who for the most part is unilingual, but also, and rather ironically in light of their uniligualism, multicultural, as is reflected in their multiple-origins.

This "multicultural" aspect of today's Ukrainian Canadian is especially important inasmuch as it highlights the modern circumstances shaping personal and collective ethnic identities in contemporary Canada. What are those modern circumstances? First, there is the openness of and mobility within modern Canadian society which promotes contact and the free-flow of ideas between peoples and individuals. Second, there is the diverse nature of Canadian society which provides a context for a range of different contacts to occur between peoples and individuals of various cultures and origins. And third, there is personal autonomy, which enables individuals to integrate the experience of contact into their lives while underlining the importance of that experience through choice. In effect, today's "typical" Ukrainian Canadian is a product of a modern liberal dynamic, one framed by a relatively open and diverse society, grounded in a value system that revels in choice, and predicated on individual political rights.

Although helping to shape the new multicultural identity of Ukrainian Canadians, the liberal framework represents something of paradox. In the process of creating, in this case, a new Ukrainian Canadian identity, an identity that is qualitatively different in content as it is in form from its ancestral roots, the question emerges: what minimally constitutes the cultural core of this new identity?

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