Reflection from our Visiting Scholar

MISSING NARRATIVES AND CAPITAL ISSUES:

CANADA’S SECRET PROVINCE AND ITS CITIZEN DIPLOMATS

Ellen Huijgh

It is in the vast space of the unknown that there are unlimited possibilities. One has to begin the design process without any preconceived ideas. Start from a blank sheet of paper and humbly approach the creative process from not knowing. The creating of new paradigms comes from individuals who are willing to think beyond the confines of the existing knowledge.

–          Douglas J. Cardinal [1]

During my stay at the School of Canadian Studies as a visiting scholar, it has been my good fortune to not only meet the Canadian Museum of Civilizations’ architect, Douglas J. Cardinal, but also to accompany Capstone Seminar students on their search for missing narratives at the museum.  With the designer’s philosophy in mind, these young Canadianists, too, have drawn upon their creativity to fill their blank sheets through surrendering their writings to the void of the unknown and by thinking beyond the confines of existing knowledge towards alternate narratives and capital issues hidden in the museum.

As a result,  this online inaugural issue created by and for young Canadianists will lead the reader through tales of the impact of the Northern environment on its residents, conditions of tension intrinsic to Quebec identity, Canada’s immigrations and governmental policies, refugees in Canada, cultural and legislative differences in the National Capital Region, Algonquin cultural, historical and spiritual sites, West Coast First Nations, pillars of Canadian Nationalism and Canadian citizenship.

Their writings reveal the different lenses through which one can see Canada’s heritage; from First Nations’ connected worldview to other cultural strains introducing different ideas and norms into Canada.  One narrative which shone through in many of the authors’ papers was intercultural relations and the sensibilities and challenges that go with identity pluralism in a society. Canadian citizens, it would seem, are less of a homogeneous mass than the flag would suggest.

Today one fifth of Canadians are foreign born with ongoing and widespread connections with citizens from their countries of origin. They fundamentally change a society’s composition and thus the raw material from which its collective identities, ideas and interests are derived. Due to ongoing globalization and the changing information ecosystem, societies such as Canada are increasingly developing in hybrid ways and are becoming less homogeneous in terms of structure and worldview, which in turn make their narratives more heterogeneous, especially if they are considered to be a reflection of their society’s culture. Canadian society today includes diffuse populations, not only of transnational ethnic groups settling in Canada, but also of so-called global Canadian citizens abroad.

Canada, then, has a hidden province, more populous than Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or all of Atlantic Canada. It is in the United States and in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, China and in dozens of other countries around the world. It is made up of the estimated 2.8 million Canadian citizens who live outside Canada’s national borders – around 8% of all Canadians.[2] In short and perhaps influenced by a ‘foreigner’s view,’ there is a map missing in the Museum of Civilizationss; that of Canada’s secret province: the members of the Canadian population who from abroad continue to shape intercultural and international relations and Canadians’ very definition of their culture. In international relations literature, members of this group are increasingly considered ‘citizen diplomats’ abroad.

While the practice of citizen diplomacy, citizens shaping international relations, hearkens back to at least before the construction of the highways of Rome, the concept of citizen diplomacy can count on increasing interest and support in the 21st century. Adherents of citizen diplomacy give a figurative meaning to diplomacy: the meeting and building of relationships between contemporary groups with a common objective and shared values. They are convinced that ongoing globalization and technological advances in communication erode state sovereignty in favor of new forms of conducting international relations where the everyday concerns of global citizens are increasingly moving to the forefront.

It is not surprising that more than a half century after its launch, the concept has picked up steam. In an increasingly mobile society where the boundaries between foreign and domestic publics and policy are fading, the share of ordinary citizens engaged in international relations has skyrocketed. Personal contact between citizens is also considered to be more credible and more efficient than the one-way communication of official governments. ‘Citizen diplomats’ can be students, teachers, athletes, entertainers, business leaders, adventurers and tourists, but they are first and foremost individuals comfortable with working with “foreigners.”

Above all, effective citizen diplomacy is not primarily about winning hearts and minds, but of looking through another’s eyes. This requires moving away from a ‘we/they’ dichotomy.  Readings on Canada cannot miss the narrative and capital issue of how rapidly the changing social media landscape and the increasing mobility of these so-called global citizens have also blurred distinctions between domestic and international and what should considered to be ‘at home’ or ‘abroad.’ In the words of the renowned psychoanalyst Howard Stein[3] on citizen diplomacy, empathy is a state of mind, not a place.

In a global environment where domestic (security) concerns are increasingly linked to international events, domestically-focused actors are increasingly aware of how international issues affect them and that the issues they care about at home have international ramifications; 9/11 and the 2008 global economic crisis may have been wake-up calls. It can further be seen in how widespread public demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have sparked a wave of similar protests across North Africa and the Near East, and in sister demonstrations in Canada where citizens have demanded that their government intervene internationally in the events.

Designations of what ‘Canadian society’ is and is not, and of what is considered to be ‘at home’ or ‘abroad’ can be useful for comparing and contrasting narratives, though there is a vast area of gray which needs further exploration. In an increasingly connected world with shifting worldviews, the missing narrative in Canadian studies moves beyond categorical thinking and searches for the intersections between ‘immigrants’ and ‘emigrants’, ‘domestic’ and ‘international.’ At the very core of all of this is the notion of reciprocity relationships.

So not only will I be encouraging other foreign scholars to share the benefits of experiences similar to mine at the School of Canadian Studies and of experiencing Canada in the flesh, I hope that young Canadianists and Canadians in general will jump at opportunities to expose themselves to understanding this secret province’s narratives by travelling abroad, and for those who wish, to become citizen ambassadors reflecting diversity in society themselves.


[2] De Voretz, D. (29/10/2009). Canada’s Secret Province: 2.8 Million Canadians Abroad. Project Paper Series, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and qoute at http://www.asiapacific.ca/media/press-releases/25979.

[3] Stein, H. (1987) Encompassing systems: Implications for citizen diplomacy. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 364-384

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