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Get Culture!

What is Canadian culture? It is a good question and not easy to answer. In such a large, diverse country, the answer may be that there are many Canadian cultures. Canada is a multicultural country sometimes described as a “mosaic,” with many culturally unique groups contributing to the larger picture.

Each community, organization or even family may have their unique way of doing things.

Your perception of “Canadians” depends on the characteristics of the culture you are coming from. For example, if you come from a culture where communication is very formal and indirect, you may experience people here to speak very casually and directly – perhaps you may even find them impolite. However, if you are coming from culture even more direct than Canada, you may need to learn how to use softeners so that you are not perceived as rude.

Once you get past the obvious aspects of cultural differences, you can dig deeper to find out what the shared values and beliefs are that guide people through daily life. You can observe how people act toward each other and then reflect on what is happening or even ask someone to explain what you have observed. Try to find out the values that are behind what you have seen.

One place to find out about some of those common Canadian values is by reading the important national documents that define us as a country. The Canadian Bill of Rights and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms define for us what it means to be a member of Canadian society. If you want to know more about the culture of your workplace, there may be other documents that communicate the values and mission that all employees should support. Learning values help members of any community work and live in harmony with each other.

It is important to recognize that each of us is also a culture of one – we have our unique values and beliefs. You may share many values, beliefs and behaviours with others from your culture but there are also ways you are different. Be careful not to stereotype – just because one Canadian instructor sets specific rules for the classroom does not mean that it is normal for all Canadian classes.

Another important aspect of understanding the culture of a new place is to study the history and heritage – how the community came to be where it is now.

Settlers and indigenous Canadians have had a difficult history, with many injustices and actions of oppression against indigenous people. These include broken treaties, restricted access to basic education and health services and programs such as residential schools and the “60s scoop” which took indigenous children away from their parents and communities to separate them from their culture.

The relationship between indigenous people, settlers and newcomers to Canada has been damaged, but many are beginning to work on rebuilding that relationship through a process of reconciliation. The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, based here in Winnipeg, has set out 94 Calls to Action which challenges everyone in Canada to engage in a new way of living together.

As a newcomer to Canada, you also have an important part to play in the process of reconciliation. One step you can take is to learn about Canada’s indigenous peoples, their histories and cultures. The School of Indigenous Education has many events on campus that you can attend to learn more, and there are even more opportunities to learn around Winnipeg and Manitoba. By getting involved in reconciliation, you can help us build a stronger community together.

Check out this week’s Get Oriented (GO) success strategies and more videos for making positive connections in a new culture! Here are a few to get started:

GO Session: Understanding Canadian Culture

GO Session: Learning About Indigenous Culture – Charlene Calder

GO Session: Learning About Indigenous Culture – Monica Morin