Roundtable 3: Cultural Identity


Diversity is a positive factor in the health and evolution of species in nature. When our identities are threatened we may withdraw, become defensive or aggressive. When a dominant group colonizes another, the previous culture may be maligned or suppressed. Wars and conflicts often play on ethnic, religious, or cultural differences.

  • When people have a sense of their identity and belonging in their group, are they more likely to be open to appreciating the richness of other cultures?
  • In a diverse and multicultural city and country, how do we move beyond stereotypes to build genuine relationships within and between cultures, to build respect and mutual accommodation?
  • What role do the arts play in cultural identity?

Roundtable Discussion

There were 10 participants at this table plus the table lead Will Tao and notetaker Navi Rai. Participants had professional and personal interests in the roundtable topic connecting their work with immigrant, Indigenous, and anti-racist organizations with their own or their parents and grandparents’ experience of immigration, colonialism, and racism. These experiences were related to continuing exclusion in the city. Common themes included: the need for shared cultural spaces (to speak, tell stories); cultural mentorships; access to culture; youth cultural identity; privilege and access; disrespectful institutions; and Indigenous shared experiences.

We are in our homelands and find it disconcerting when we hear people say to people of color go back to your own country when they, themselves, are from Europe. It is disheartening and disrespectful when people say to Aboriginal people go back to your reserves. In the face of systemic racism we continue to raise our hands up.

Lillian Howard

In speaking about the need for engagement, the need to shift power from the city and institutions which replicate colonialism to the people, the need for marginalized people to work together, the importance of sharing stories between communities and between generations, and the need to connect with the land, the table re-envisioned Vancouver as a longhouse or a web of longhouses that would shift power and change Vancouver into a space for intercultural dialogue and learning.

Key Findings

  • The need for shared cultural spaces – to allow us to speak, tell stories, reclaim history, and address dispossession.
  • The need to collaborate in the process of cultural mentorship.
  • The need to empower youth in assisting them to find their cultural identities.
  • The need to tackle issues of privilege and access through distribution of funds and grants, media access, historical accounts, and within our institutions.
  • The need to address sectoring, othering, and false assumptions that negatively affect our communities.
  • To tackle intercultural trust and understanding.
  • To address the Indigenous experience as a shared experience.
Britannia Salish Honouring Ceremony. Photo by Christopher Tait


  • Creating a structural framework where we re-envision Vancouver as a “Longhouse” – a space for practicing identity, and educating about our complex identities. Deploying a longhouse concept in this way would need to be cognizant of cultural appropriation and be led by Indigenous persons from the nations (Salish and Pacific Coastal) with longhouse/big house traditions.
  • Building a web of physical “longhouses” to serve as an authentic space for intercultural dialogue and learning – a space that is de-institutionalized and autonomous.
  • Convening a Committee (outside of the City’s own committee) to plan a diverse canoe event to re-enact the process by which cultural communities have met and interacted over time.
  • Supporting the revitalization of local Indigenous languages, first by promoting education among City staff.
  • simplify the process to access city assets (grants, etc.) for cultural communities.
  • Finding ways to insert mandatory reconciliation training/knowledge into city processes (such as during business license renewals, etc.).

Related Initiatives

The Punjabi Market Retail Business Study: Findings & Next Steps 2018 (pdf), is a report and responsive initiative to research, engage stakeholders, and identify policy changes to sustain the Punjabi Market. Essential to the South Asian community as a commercial and cultural destination since the 1970s, the old market areas is experiencing an economic decline and the loss/dislocation of businesses and residents with rising rents and house prices. The community wants the City to protect the Punjabi Market’s cultural significance and heritage, and to improve the area’s economic vitality and business diversity.

Kokoro Dance was founded in 1986 to re-define the meaning of Canadian culture through teaching, producing, and performing new dance theatre with an emphasis on multi-disciplinary collaboration and cross-cultural exploration. Recognising the challenges that minority and non-mainstream arts organizations have, Kokoro started the Vancouver International Dance Festival in 2000 that focuses on performances by under-represented and marginalized dance artists. In 2018 it opened KW Studios in the Woodward Heritage Building (111 Hastings St. W) with a mandate to make the studios affordable and accessible to DTES performing artists/organizations.

The Vancouver Mural Festival is the city’s largest free public art celebration. It is held in August with events and public art installations throughout the year that address socio-economic issues facing the city.

CJSF aims to finds ways to hear and support cultural values, programs, and issues utilizing public radio and virtual media as one way to broaden the base of people who understand and want to support initiatives such as Shared Cultural spaces. CJSF radio welcomes an eclectic range of opportunities for our work group to share its stories and recommendations.

La Federation des francophones de la Colombie-Britannique works to expand the francophone space in B.C. and support francophone civil society capacity. One aspect of their mandate is to support new francophone immigrants, recognising that not all francophones have a European heritage. They work to expand diversity within the francophone community and support African immigrants and refugees in maintaining their francophone heritage.

Urban Indigenous Peoples Advisory Committee advises Council and staff on enhancing access and inclusion for urban Indigenous Peoples to fully participate in City services and civic life. Cultural identity is extremely important for Indigenous people, and Indigenous concepts such as the longhouse can help Vancouver overcome its colonial history and racist present.

We Heart Canada is a partnership between the Vancouver Asian Film Festival, the City and Vancouver Immigration Partnership to offer immigrant and refugee youth the use of video to tell their story about belonging and cultural identity. Begun for Canada’s 150th birthday, this year the project is reaching out to Indigenous, East Asian, and South Asian communities.

The Hidden Journals is co-authored by Mary Tasi and Wade Baker. Based on archival and oral research from many Indigenous elders in Vancouver and Maui, the book examines the stories about Wade Baker’s ancestor, Third Lieutenant Joseph Baker, mapmaker on HMS Discovery, from 1791 to 1795, and Captain Vancouver. The book centers Indigenous knowledge, looking at history through an authentic Indigenous lens.

Return to Roundtable Report List