The Racialized Formation of Canada: Coming to Terms with this Difficult Knowledge By Myka Caluyong For EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

The Racialized Formation of Canada:  Coming to Terms with this Difficult Knowledge By Myka Caluyong For EDU 5101 Perspectives in Education

Timothy Stanley (2016) defines racism as “the active process of structuring social relations around racialized differences” that is purposefully done by humans (p. 9). As a result, the process of racialized structuring causes the Other-ing or exclusion of certain races. He highlights the formation of Canada as a racist state, wherein First Nations and Asian immigrant populations were distinctly identified and separated from the dominant colonial population. This racialized structuring particularly became legitimized in Canada during John A. Mcdonald’s 1885 Electoral Franchise Act. What struck me the most was Stanley’s (2016) comment that over time, the racialized structures eventually become normalized into “just the way the world is” (p. 10). This particular statement instilled my realization of the unseen reality of the dynamics within Canadian society. Although this was difficult to accept, I turn to Donald’s (2009) notion of ethical citizenship, wherein one is cognizant of the racial imbalances and faces it by “constantly think(ing) and act(ing)” with reference to these imbalances (p. 7).

The racial injustices faced by the Chinese immigrants and First Nations peoples during Macdonald’s Canada is often not discussed, or known in the collective Canadian history. Treaties between the government and First Nations peoples created a border that separated both colonial and non-colonial ethnicities (Stanley, 2016; Donald, 2009). Meanwhile, the very biological difference of Chinese immigrants from British settlers further catalyzed their Other-ed state, which influenced the colonial government’s barring of their voting rights (Stanley, 2016). Although these injustices happened in the 19th century, much of the Other-ing and racialization have, unfortunately, persisted through to today. For instance, First Nations peoples still face the systematic discrimination, as they fight to receive drinkable and well-sanitized water for their communities. This is a battle some of these communities have been struggling with for 10 years (Human Rights Watch, 2016; McClearn, 2016; CBC News, 2016). Meanwhile, many immigrants who come to Canada face isolation. Their isolation is furthered, as their accomplishments are devalued compared to Canadian standards and they also lack access to supportive health and mental health resources (Noh & Avison, 1996; Chapin, 2012; Salami, Meharali, & Salami, 2015).

As a person of Asian descent who is in the process of immigrating to Canada permanently, I cannot help but ruminate on the normalized Other-ings, marginalization, or racisms experienced by immigrants and First Nations peoples that dismissed in the narration of Canadian history. However, it is an important discourse that we must engage in to bring awareness to and better understand racism within Canada. To ignore it would only discount its reality and importance. Stanley’s (2016) statement of explicit racisms becoming normalized racisms provokes a feeling of resignation and jadedness within me.

Stanley (2016) underscores such null curriculum in what has not been taught and in turn is not known within the collective historical consciousness. In highlighting such unknown aspect of Canadian history, he creates an opportunity for the growth of my knowledge and understanding of Canada today. I have hopes of engaging with my newly found knowledge by creating an attitude of openness to others. Despite my discomfort in embracing this aspect of Canadian history, I take note of Celia Haig-Brown’s (2008) advice: “Be prepared to engage in knowledge. It can only take on meaning if you are willing to take the time to listen to what is said, to take it into your context and to consider its meaning for you” (p. 10).

I therefore engage in ethical citizenship (Tupper, 2012), wherein I pay attention to the stories that reflect the differential experiences of the rights and freedoms of many Canadian people. I acknowledge and welcome the discomfort in learning about the First Nations peoples’ predicament in relation to their traumatic past—from the treaties, the forced assimilation through education, and the inequalities that they still experience today. In my journey of immigrating to Canada, I come to an understanding of the psychological toll that many immigrants experience while facing cultural isolation and overcoming systemic barriers that limit their access to supportive care (Noh & Avison, 1996; Salami et al., 2015). I listen and honour these stories for they have been subdued and dishonoured in the narrative of Canadian history. I also recognize and reflect upon my “position in a place” in relation to the circumstances within it (Chambers, 2008, p. 115). Moreover, I pause and think about my preconceived notions of Canadian identity and weave the First Nations and immigrant stories within it. After all, Canada is a country of people whose histories and experiences are sewn together.

Reading the article by Stanley (2016) not only brings forth the notion of the null curriculum in mainstream Canadian history and identity, but also encourages one to face the difficult stories that disrupt our prior conceptions of Canada and the ways in which we previously related to them. To move forward with such difficult knowledge would include carrying this knowledge, engaging with it, and fostering an ethical citizenship. One must acknowledge that “histories and experiences are layered and position us in relation to each other, and how our futures as people similarly are tied together” (Donald, 2009, p. 7). The formation of Canada is the formation of people’s layers of history and story.

The recent changes in the Canadian secondary school curriculum aim for increased awareness of the history, traditions, and contemporary issues First Nations peoples continue to face in relation to the nation-state some of us call Canada (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2016). Perhaps a conversation regarding the difficult knowledge of the formation of Canada as a racist state, and what can be done with this knowledge, can begin in this platform. Educators and learners may benefit from this exercise towards ethical citizenship.


Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (2016, June 7). Canada violates human right to safe water, says report by international watchdog. CBC News: Thunderbay. Retrieved from

Chambers, C. (2008). Where are we? Finding common ground in a curriculum of place. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 6(2), 113-128.

Chapin, A. (2012, December 19). Canada immigration: Foreign skilled workers struggle to find jobs in their professions. The Huffington Post Canada. Retrieved from

Donald, D.T. (2009). Forts, curriculum, and Indigenous metissage: Imagining decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian relations in educational contexts. First Nations Perspectives, 2, 1-24.

Flinders, D.J., Noddings, N., & Thornton, S.J. (1986). The null curriculum: Its theoretical basis and practical implications. Curriculum Inquiry, 16, 33-42.

Haig-Brown, C. (2008). Taking Indigenous thought seriously: A rant on globalization with some cautionary notes. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 6(2), 8-23.

Human Rights Watch. (2016, June 7). Canada: Water crisis puts First Nations families at risk: Regulation, investment, and oversight needed to fix broken system. Human Rights Watch: Canada. Retrieved from