Working to save cultural identity
Canada does not have to be one big melting pot — and work is being done to prevent that from happening in Saskatchewan.
Daniel Hiatt knows all too well the impact assimilation can have on a culture.
“I don’t know about my own personal heritage other than that I have German, British and Norwegian descent,” he said. “I can’t tell you anything about it. All I know is Western Canada.”
On Tuesday, the University of Regina hosted the Living Heritage Growing Our Cultural Heritage conference, which was hosted by the U of R Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School (JSGS) of Public Policy.
Hiatt, JSGS student policy shop co-ordinator, is one of the people currently working to help communities and organizations preserve and protect culture by heading up a student-based program that provides free policy analysis and research work for community groups and organizations.
Initially, like many Canadians, he did not know anything about intangible cultural heritage and why it is important to develop policy to preserve it.
“I just assumed as people lived their cultures, it was preserved, but that’s not necessarily true in every case,” said Hiatt.
He said First Nations and new Canadians run the risk of losing their unique identity as they adapt to the dominant society just like his family did.
As a father, Hiatt is now interested in finding out more about his unique heritage, so he can pass that knowledge on to his children.
He says it’s important to talk about cultural preservation and ways to support it because Saskatchewan is rich with culture.
“A lot of organizations work to safeguard their own personal heritage, but on a provincial level, there is not really a whole lot from the provincial government aside from a declaration that we should be thinking about intangible heritage and we should be safeguarding it,” said Hiatt. “There is not really a whole lot of specific funding or programs in place to assist communities.”
There are a lot of communities in the province working to safeguard their cultural heritage, but on a small scale because there is little or no funding available to do the work, he said.
Ideally, Hiatt would like to see the province draft legislation and make policy programs that would help educate groups or communities on how to preserve and protect their unique culture heritage.
Richard MacKinnon, Canada Research Chair, Intangible Cultural Heritage, Centre for Cape Breton Studies, focused his keynote address, Stories from East Lessons for the West on what his province has done to preserve its maritime heritage.
He said Newfoundland has its own intangible cultural heritage policy development worker, who works with community groups to record, document and sustain their intangible heritage.
“It’s a term not many understand, but in the past we used terms like folklore or cultural heritage, but really it’s living tradition,” said MacKinnon.
He believes the key to accomplishing this in Canada is for community organizations to push their provincial government to recognize and support the work it takes to preserve culture and heritage.
MacKinnon said if nothing is done now to preserve Saskatchewan’s diverse cultures, it runs the risk of losing that diversity, which would be a great loss.
He said Tuesday’s conference gives him hope that won’t happen here, because scholars and grassroots organizations are talking about it.