Living Heritage: Our values, beliefs and ways of life shape our sense of identity, belonging and place, connecting past, present and future.
Kristin Catherwood |


Living Heritage and Defining the Issues of Our Times

The cultural legacy we each carry within us, has a significant impact on our sense of identity, belonging and place which in turn shapes how we learn and grow; how we contribute to society through the workplace and assume our responsibilities as citizens. Increasing awareness of Living Heritage as a dynamic aspect of daily life in all its dimensions: cultural, social, environmental and economic, contributes to more informed public dialogue about our values, beliefs and ways of living. Individuals and groups participate as all three, usually at the same time, in an attempt to define themselves and to create meaning in their lives. When it comes to Living Heritage and quality of life, context matters!

There is convincing evidence that all individual/human learning/development occurs within a cultural context.[i] The values, beliefs and ways of living that we inherit and that inform the choices we make as individuals and as communities; in other words, our Living Heritage is shaped by our parents, our grandparents, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches and so on. We inherit more than our DNA; nature and nurture combine to influence and shape the person we become. In addition to the cultural context we also inherit social systems and institutions related to government, health, justice, and education that provide programs and services that are meant to meet the needs of groups and communities.  Moreover, as we grow and learn as individuals within communities, we interact with the natural environment which in turn shapes our cultural and social context. This is true for all human beings; our brains are wired to process information and make sense of our experiences as we navigate our way in the world. Jill Bolte Taylor explains it like this in her book, My Stroke of Insight:

Sensory information streams in through our sensory systems and is immediately processed through our limbic system. By the time a message reaches our cerebral cortex for higher thinking, we have already placed a ‘feeling’ upon how we view that stimulation - is this pain or is this pleasure? Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, biologically we are feeling creatures that think.[ii]

In addition to the cultural, social and environmental dimensions, most human activity has an economic dimension and most economic activity has an impact on the environment.  The environment writ large includes the natural and the man-made environments which in turn include the places we work, the marketplace, and the places we gather to share experiences. All human activity shapes and is shaped by the environment in which it takes place in a symbiotic relationship. In order to measure the impact of human activity and the effectiveness of policies and programs we need to understand how cultural, social, environmental and economic systems work. We need to think holistically and long-term.  As we are all a product of our times so we will be remembered by future generations for how we confronted and addressed the defining issues of our times.

Indigenous Peoples
The issues we face today as communities and as a country, with regards to Indigenous people are the direct result of the colonial experience; of culture denied. Living Heritage resonates with people because it reflects lived experience; the cultural context within which all human development occurs. It is especially significant, traumatic in fact, when your cultural context is denigrated and/or destroyed. Living Heritage recognizes and aligns with Indigenous cultural ways of knowing and this understanding is fundamental to addressing the Calls to Action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in particular to the call for intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism training and skills development in the workplace.

Pluralism / Cultural Diversity
Globalization has brought each of us face to face with those whose values, beliefs and ways of living are different from our own. When different cultures come into contact, as they do now on a daily basis, Living Heritage plays a direct role in how people react or respond to the situation. Building positive relationships within our own groups and communities can be difficult at times and expanding the circle to include others is always a challenge. Nevertheless, building a shared future depends on our ability to do just that. Negotiating a shared future can only be achieved with a greater understanding of Living Heritage and how it influences relationships in the present; in the classroom, on the playground, in the workplace, or wherever people gather to share experiences.

Aging Populations
In addition, societies around the world are getting older. The aging population will have not only significant economic impacts, but cultural and social impacts on communities as well. On the other side of 50, people start to take stock, looking back to where they came from and what they have achieved; assessing their path in retrospect and considering the legacy they will leave to future generations. This can be a time of positive validation or it can be a time of reckoning that leads to isolation and depression. In the near future, more people will be looking to the past than ever before. Baby boomers are only now beginning to retire, and they represent the largest cohort of people ever recorded. This will put a strain on all systems, not only the economy but on the healthcare system and all public services. Ted Fishman, in his book, Shock of Gray, believes that “how societies treat the growing number of elders within their populations will be influenced both by cultural traditions [Living Heritage] as well as current and future economic realities.”[iii]

The Environment / Biodiversity
Just as our Living Heritage shapes how we experience and create meaning in our lives, so too our choices shape the legacy we will leave to future generations.  This symbiotic relationship is also true for the natural world around us. The environment in which we live shapes our ways of living in very tangible ways and in turn we shape the environment as we create meaning from our interaction with the environment. Moreover, there is evidence to suggest that a strong correlation exists between places of great cultural diversity and places that exhibit great biodiversity. Exploring this connection is the Secretariat for Cultural and Biologicial Diversity in partnership with UNESCO.

These issues are explored further in the full essay, Living Heritage & the Economy: how Workers, Consumers and Citizens are shaping the future available on Heritage Saskatchewan’s web site, Now is the time for governments at all levels, for-profit and not- for-profit organizations as well as individuals and groups, to show leadership and vision; to think holistically, long-term and in the interests of all. People who have the courage and strength to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do!

[i] Gardner, 1991, Domasio, 1994, Gazzaniga, 2012.
[ii] Taylor, Jill Bolte, My Stroke of Insight. New York: A Plume Book, Penguin Group, 2009, p.17.
[iii] Fishman, Ted C., Shock of Gray. New York: Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2010.

Sandra Massey, Research Program Coordinator
Sandra has been an active member of the cultural community for over 20 years. A student by nature, Sandra’s recent interests include memory and the value of personal storytelling, exploring the fine line between fact and fiction, and how we create meaning and build a sense of identity, belonging and place in a pluralistic world.


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