The language challenge from Maytree Canada

Yesterday I attended a local community forum, Dialogue on Diversity: Immigrant Civic Participation, sponsored by the Waterloo Immigration Partnership, Regional Municipality of Waterloo. The event was MC’d by Lucia Harrison, ED of the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre. The keynote speaker was the President of the Maytree Foundation, Ratna Omidvar.

Omidvar used her time well, bringing Alan Broadbent’s Three I’s of Integration (Investment, Intentionality, Instruments) to our attention, the Maytree’s Five Good Ideas project, to name only two. But it was her discussion about the language we use in Canada when discussing immigration that really caught my interest. We talk about multiculturalism, interculturalism, multiversalism, and the dreaded by almost all – tolerance.

Omidvar always has enlightening and thought provoking things to say about immigration and settlement, but I want to focus on a challenge she posed to those of us attending the forum. With regard to language, Omidvar proposed that the word integration is problematic – that is somehow diminishes the newcomer by subsuming her into the Other, new world she is settling in, that the accommodations made are made by the newcomer. Inclusion however is, according to Omidvar, a 2-way street and one that welcomes the participation of the newcomer (which was the point of the event: how to engage newcomer participation).

Those who come from the early learning and child care and family support sector have long been advocates of the word – and concept – of inclusion. For us, inclusion has always meant that ‘everyone belongs’: families with children with special needs, families and children living in poverty, Aboriginal children and families, immigrant and refugee children and families, urban children and families, rural children and families, children and families living in Northern and remote communities, etc. All children share the same rights of participation (see UN Convention on the Rights of the Child). So, we like this move in the immigrant/settlement community towards the language of inclusion. What do you think?

A number of years ago, the Laidlaw Foundation commissioned a series of reports on social inclusion for marginalized groups. It’s a joy to share these (PDFs) once again in the hopes they are useful in furthering the discussion about immigrant/newcomer inclusion (1 co-written by Omidvar):

Social Inclusion, Anti-Racism and Democratic Citizenship, Anver Saloojee (2003)

Immigrant Settlement and Social Inclusion in Canada, Ratna Omidvar and Ted Richmond (2003)

Social Inclusion as Solidarity: Re-thinking the Child Rights Agenda, Michael Bach (2002)

Social Inclusion for Canadian Children through Early Childhood Education and Care, Martha Friendly and Donna Lero (2002)

These papers addressing inclusion among marginalized and disadvantaged groups can help us support and promote the language of inclusion for newcomer children and their families. I urge you to re-visit them.