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What is your vision for a culturally diverse and “integrated” community?

For the past decade the buzz word “integration” has anchored Canadian immigration discourse. Policy analysts, academics, immigrant settlement workers, newcomers and community members use the word “integration” to describe the ultimate goal of immigration and settlement. Yet, despite the term’s prevalence, there tend to be many different views on what “integration” means, in definition as well as in practice.

Certainly, in the post-Trudeau era of multiculturalism, use of the term “integration” reflects a shift in Canadian values. This shift represents a departure from an “assimilist” past towards an appreciation of cultural diversity and an emphasis on encouraging active citizenship and community membership of newcomers to Canada. However, some argue that “integration” is simply a semantic replacement for “assimilation,” with very little actually changing on the ground in terms of settlement experiences of newcomers to Canada.

What does integration and settlement mean at the community level? When does a person feel like they belong? How can community members, whether newcomers or established residents, create an environment where people from different cultural backgrounds feel accepted for who they are, connected to their community, and valued for their contributions?

The Community Integration Network (CIN), an informal network of Nova Scotia stakeholders and organizations, believe that it is at the community level where creative solutions to these questions can be found and where new questions can emerge.

On May 12, the Community Integration Network held a Community Diversity and Integration Symposium at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Unlike traditional symposiums which highlight guest speakers and experts, the forum was more informal with an emphasis on sharing knowledge and experiences. Participants chose what they wanted to discuss and how they wanted to express it.

Merek Jagielski, a volunteer leader of CIN describes the community development approach of the Symposium:

“The main intent of this Symposium is to consult and hear from community members about their perspectives and insights in what would be the best approaches in making community integration work in Nova Scotia.

The vision of ‘the integrated and holistic community’ championed by the Network may lead us into working on a community paradigm shift that may eventually result in developing the community integration strategy for Nova Scotia.”

Adopting an open forum and informal approach the Symposium provided space for people to reclaim the meaning of integration as well as put it into practice. This takes our understanding of integration beyond the abstract level of semantics back into our communities, where a shared sense of inclusivity, value and belonging, matter the most.