Intergroup Relations

From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Doukhobors/Koozma J. Tarasoff

Doukhobors’ earliest contacts with the rest of the world came through the Tolstoyans, Quakers, and Molokans (or “Milk-drinkers,” a kindred group in southern Russia). Because mutual aid rather than competition was at the heart of their philosophy, involvement in the cooperative movement was a natural source of intergroup contact. In Canada such interaction has included the Canadian Wheat Board and the Saskatchewan Farmers’ Union, as well as cooperative retail and wholesale businesses in British Columbia. The Wheat Board, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, and the Farmers’ Union brought Doukhobor farmers into contact with others in the broader community at harvest time and at annual meetings. As a result of this experience, they became elevator agents in Blaine Lake, Pelly, and Verigin.

From the beginning of the CCUB, the business operations of the Doukhobor commune put its administrators in touch with accountants, bankers, wholesalers, insurance agents, and lawyers. After the collapse of the CCUB in 1938, its spirit was channelled into consumer cooperatives established in the Slocan valley and at Brilliant and a large operation called the Sunshine Valley Cooperative in Grand Forks. At first, only Doukhobors were admitted as members and no meat, guns, or tobacco were sold, but by the early 1970s membership had been extended to the general public. The cooperative was twice destroyed by arson, in 1949 and in 1975. After it was rebuilt in 1980, however, it was no longer able to attract enough members to compete with new shopping complexes and was forced to close its doors.

Service clubs such as Rotary International, Toastmasters International, the Optimist Club, the Kinsmen Club, the Elks, and the local chambers of commerce have all attracted Doukhobors, and a number have held executive positions. John J. Verigin served on the board of directors for the western region of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews and with the Grand Forks Society for Handicapped Children and the local branch of the Red Cross. Young people participated in a series of youth leadership conferences in Banff in the 1950s and 1960s, sponsored by the federal government, which were aimed at dispelling prejudice and discrimination in the country. In 1979 a consultative forum, the Kootenay Committee on Intergroup Relations, chaired by a senior administrator of the British Columbia attorney general’s office, began meeting irregularly with representatives of the Doukhobor groups, provincial and federal agencies, and local community resource people.

The peace, disarmament, and environment movements have also brought Doukhobors together with other groups. Independent, community, and, to a lesser extent, zealot members have been active in such organizations as Project Ploughshares (the USCC is a corporate member), the Fellowship of Reconciliation, World Federalists, War Resisters International, the Voice of Women, the Canadian Peace Congress, Operation Dismantle, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Peace Alliance, and the Canadian United Nations Association. Together with the Quakers and Mennonites and Conscience Canada, the Doukhobors lobbied the Canadian government to ensure that their status as conscientious objectors would continue to be recognized. In 1997 they worked together to help the Canadian government organize an international meeting to ban land mines.

They have also been involved in organizations promoting the preservation of Russian and Slavic culture. Since the founding of the Federation of Russian Canadians in the 1930s, they have taken part in its cultural and peace activities. Doukhobor academics have participated as presenters and organizers at meetings of the Canadian Slavic Association, and in 1974 a student youth choir performed at the International Slavists Conference in Banff. In 1994 the Learned Societies, meeting in Calgary, hosted a forum on Doukhobor history, followed by cultural events. The Canada-USSR Association, in which Doukhobors have served as branch presidents in Grand Forks, Castlegar, Saskatoon, Kamsack, and Ottawa, dates from the 1940s. Society Rodina and its predecessor, the Slavic Committee, have since the 1960s enabled community and independent Doukhobors to meet Soviet citizens, including Doukhobors, in the areas of university education, cultural exchange, and support for peace and the environment. The Toronto-based Canada-USSR Association has facilitated tours, the showing of Russian films, and presentations by Russian speakers, as has the Association of Canadians of Russian Descent.

Relations among the zealots, other Doukhobors, and non-Doukhobors have at times been bitter. The group as a whole has been subjected to vigilantism, police action, repressive legislation, and royal commissions. The issues that have divided Doukhobors, such as questions of leadership and attitudes to politics, also alienate many from the larger society. They oppose religious groups that try to infiltrate their movement in order to proselytize, politicians who seek their vote but fail to take account the Doukhobor mistrust of the military, schools in which the teaching of history glorifies war and rulers, social programs that place a higher emphasis on money than on health and social well-being, and anything that promotes war as a solution to the world’s problems.

Except for their continuing opposition to militarism, a lingering sense of injustice about the loss of their land in 1907 and 1938, and a desire to maintain their ancestral language, community and independent Doukhobors have generally accommodated to Canadian ways. The zealot factions have tended to remain separate physically and psychologically from the wider society. Until the mid-1980s and the era of perestroika, with the attendant lessening of Cold War tension and a growing recognition in the West of the richness of Slavic culture, many Doukhobors were unjustly branded as “nudists” and “trouble makers.” In recent years, journalists and the general public have become more aware that individual acts of zealotry cannot be blamed on the group as a whole.