All of the people who formed the Tibetan-Canadian communities beginning in the early 1970s and those who have subsequently immigrated here are REFUGEES.
All of the people who formed the Tibetan-Canadian communities beginning in the early 1970s and those who have subsequently immigrated here are REFUGEES. The occupation of Tibet by China beginning in 1949 and culminating in the Tibetan uprising against the occupying forces in 1959 is the shared experience which links Tibetan refugee communities in Asia, Europe and North America.
Over 100 000 Tibetans followed their ruler, the Dalai Lama, as refugees, to India and neighbouring countries. The Dalai Lama established a government-in-exile in Dharmsala in northern India to co-ordinate efforts to provide for the needs of the refugees and to develop institutions to preserve Tibetan learning and culture while Tibetans were separated from their country. The occupation of Tibet by China resulted in the deaths of about 1.2 million Tibetans and the destruction of over 6000 monastic communities which were the religious, educational and administrative centres of Tibetan society. China's policies of forced assimilation, exacerbated by massive population transfers from China to Tibet and coupled with human rights violations and the destruction of Tibetan ecology have caused widespread international concern.
The influx of Tibetans to India and other countries continued after the initial exodus, straining resources in India, and in 1967 the Dalai Lama appealed to the international community to accept Tibetan refugees. Switzerland was the first nation to offer resettlement and Canada was the second. Canadians had been collaborating with European aid agencies (with help from CIDA after 1970) to help Tibetan refugees resettle in India since the establishment of the Tibetan Refugee Aid Society in Vancouver in 1963 by the late George Woodcock and other concerned Canadians.
Canada admitted 228 individuals during 1971-72 under the Tibetan Refugee Program. There were settlement programs in Québec, Ontario and the Prairies. The community now numbers 780 (1996c), with about half of the people living in Ontario. There are also smaller communities in Québec, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia.
Tibetans have gained support internationally for their nonviolent resistance to China's occupation of their country. For his continued commitment to these peaceful means, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Under his leadership, the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmsala has developed a democratic parliament and constitution which redefines his role in primarily religious terms. Exiled Tibetans have also developed a parliament-in-exile which includes elected MPs from each region with a population of Tibetan refugees. The Tibetan communities in Canada work for Tibetan refugees and for Tibet through the Canada Tibet Committee, with its headquarters in Montréal. In 1992 the Canada Tibet Committee established the Canada Tibet Network on the Internet to link the Tibetan-Canadian communities. Subsequently renamed World Tibet Network, the service now serves Tibetans and Tibetan support groups globally. The Canada Tibet Committee has a World Wide Web homepage and is participating in the ongoing development and management of centralized Tibetan resources on the Internet.
All of the Tibetan communities in Canada have established active community and cultural associations to support the daunting task of preserving Tibetan culture in exile. There is also a national Tibetan youth organization. Tibetans are particularly proud of the communities' self-reliance, with virtually full employment. The first generation of Tibetan-Canadians born in Canada has produced a Rhodes Scholar, and it would appear that this generation will include a very large proportion of university-educated women and men.
Almost all Tibetans are Mahayana Buddhists. Tibetan Buddhism, also called "lamaism," is distinct in its emphasis upon finding the Tulkus or reincarnations of highly realized or enlightened Lamas. The most important reincarnated Lama is the Dalai Lama, who is believed to be a manifestation of Chenrasigs (also called Avalokitesvara), the Bodhisattva of Compassion. It is difficult to overestimate the symbolic importance of the Dalai Lama himself and the system of Tibetan Buddhism which he represents. The Dalai Lama's personal example and Tibetan Buddhism with its profound emphasis upon the development of compassion and personal responsibility is a central cultural theme for the Tibetan Canadian community.