By the turn of the twenty-first century, toleration of cultural difference or multiculturalism, broadly defined, became a hallmark of liberal democratic countries. As the first country to declare multiculturalism national policy in 1971, Canada became a world-renowned example. Once the target of forced assimilation or feared as the cause of separatism, diversity came to be embraced as part of Canada’s official national identity and Anglo-individualist liberal heritage and structure. However, state supported multiculturalism in Canada and elsewhere has been met with mixed success, a fact which has been made clear by social and political movements which have sought to change or reject its terms. In some cases, these calls are from representatives of the constituencies whose grievances the model was devised to address. It is in this fraught context that some critics declare state multiculturalism’s bankruptcy and demand a return to a more homogenous approach, while others suggest expanding or radicalizing the framework’s terms. Why has multiculturalism failed to deliver its promise and what comes after it in Canada? A robustly democratic understanding of the constitutive diversity and sovereignties sharing the territory of Canada requires, I argue, that we go beyond the state-centred approaches critics of multiculturalism have challenged. As a political theorist, I respond to this question by looking to the historical context in which claims to group difference arise. Methodologically combining empirical and conceptual analyses, I principally focus on the illustrative and understudied communal Russian Doukhobors and the Indigenous Sinixt. I use this richly layered case of intersectional politics to focus attention on the democratic practices of Indigenous and immigrant communities as they press their claims in a triangulated relationship to one another and the state. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s conception of politics as “world-building,” this case helps us to reframe national challenges of plurality from the limited abstract view of the state to the expansive view of the participatory democratic realm.




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