Healing Gaia

Petition to Acknowledge Indigenous History in Canadian Citizenship

A new petition calls on the Federal Government to redesign the Canadian Citizenship study guide to acknowledge Indigenous treaty rights and to education new Canadians on the effects of colonialism.

By Doreen Nicoll
Published December 12, 2017

A petition calling on the federal government to redesign the current Canadian Citizenship study guide and exam to acknowledge Indigenous history has received the 500 signatures required to be formally tabled in the House.

Petition E-1228, an initiative of Mariam Manaa, a former summer intern in the office of Oakville North-Burlington Liberal MP Pam Damoff, is supported by Stephen Paquette, a member of the Anishinaabe from Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island. Paquette is chair of the Halton Indigenous Education Advisory Council.

Manaa wanted to create an online petition asking the federal government to redesign the current Canadian Citizenship guide and exam to acknowledge Indigenous history. Paquette volunteered to play a supporting role to Manaa's initiative.

The petition calls on the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to continue working in consultation and partnership with Indigenous Nations across Canada, as well as the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to redevelop the study guide curriculum to acknowledge Indigenous Treaty Rights and educate new Canadians on intergenerational effects of residential schools and the legacy of colonialism.

The citizenship exam would be modified to include a question about the traditional territories new Canadians inhabit.

The petition to the Minister states:

The changes would uphold the commitment made in the Minister of the IRCC's mandate letter to educate new Canadians on residential schools and the legacy of colonialism.

Paquette undertook changing the citizenship guide and exam because: "It's a simple opportunity to educate newcomers to Canada and thereby change the landscape of perspectives going forward. These changes can make a lasting and meaningful impact to the relationships between the Indigenous peoples and their neighbours."

Specifically, item 93 in the TRC Call to Action [PDF] states: "We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with the national Aboriginal organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools," is addressed by the proposed changes.

Petition E-1228 also implements Call to Action 94: "We call upon the Government of Canada to replace the Oath of Citizenship with the following: I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen."

Manna, who studies Urban Regional Planning, undertook the project in order to raise awareness, but in the end, she learned much more, "Steven taught me that it's more important to work with people than working for them. Many times, we think that we are helping people by doing the work for them. However, how can we help them if we don't work together to better things or make an impact together?"

Paquette chose to work with Damoff's office because he found her intentions of true Reconciliation sincere stating, "Pam Damoff recognizes that this will not be a one-time event, but rather a journey and from every thing I have seen, she understands this and wants to be a part of it."

Via email, Damoff indicated:

As part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on behalf of Canada. One recommendation called on the federal government, in collaboration with national Indigenous organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and the citizenship test to "reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal peoples of Canada."

A draft guide delves extensively into the history and present-day lives of Indigenous Peoples, including multiple references to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report on residential schools and a lengthy section on what happened at those schools. The current guide contains a single paragraph.

Sherry Saevil, Indigenous Education Advisor, supports the E-petition:

The immigration test does not have enough information on the history of Indigenous people nor does it have anything to do with understanding Treaties.

Every person in Canada is a Treaty person and for new Canadians they must understand colonization from an Indigenous perspective. New Canadians too must understand the turmoil of the Residential School experience. I have heard numerous times from new Canadians that happened a long time ago and has nothing to do with them.

New Canadians also come with their own bias of Indigenous people which is racist and bigoted. It is important for everyone to understand the land that they come to has been stolen by the colonial government without compensation.

Kim Jenkinson, Executive Director of the Halton Multicultural Council, also fully supports Petition E-1228. Jenkinson believes, "If newcomers are expected to know and understand something of the history of Canada, then there must also be an expectation that it includes the history of Canada's Indigenous people and their treatment in Canada."

Jenkinson says the learning would have two purposes: "The first, to understand history from a more diverse and holistic lens and the second to bring an understanding that Canada is not perfect. We have liberties and rights here, but the rights of some have been trampled. Freedom and liberties do not come easily, and we need to do the work of examining our history and our current actions against our values and reconcile to ensure our future is peaceful and equitable for all."

Fallon Melander, an Anishinaabe lawyer who has read the study guide, believes this to be a very important undertaking. Melander said, "I strongly agree it does not reflect or portray the reality of Indigenous Peoples, communities and history of Turtle Island. I have had the opportunity to sit down with many new immigrants who feel cheated that they were not given the whole or true story of Indigenous Peoples and Canada`s history of colonization. I am happy to see that this is being brought up by Steven and sponsored by Pam."

A minimum 500 signatures are required to proceed to next steps. To date, over 527 people from across the country have signed the petition.

According to Damoff, "Once a petition is tabled, the government has to respond. It already has the 500 signatures necessary to require a government response." However, Damoff was clear, "The timeline for implementing the changes is up to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship the Hon. Ahmed Hussen."

While Paquette feels the petition has been well received he sagely observes, "The passion behind it, that could be better."

Petition E-1228 is available online until December 15, 2017 at 12:30 pm. (EDT).

A version of this article appeared in NOW Magazine on November 29, 2017.

Doreen Nicoll is a feminist and a member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.

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By osborne (registered) | Posted December 14, 2017 at 22:42:20

I’m in favour of some clarification in the Citizenship Guide.

I checked the guide and it refers to Aboriginal Peoples (not Indigenous). I’m posting what it says at the end of my thoughts. Perhaps some statement of the Residential Schools issue is impacting Canada’s efforts at Reconciliation. The guide goes on to describe other aspects of Canada’s history not Indigenous history in the Americas. I suspect that reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples will not happen in one generation.

I vaguely recall how political this guide became when the Conservatives were in power and revised it strengthening certain aspects. Racism and bigotry are not limited to New Comers. The Liberals will not be in power forever. It is a Liberal statement that Canada’s strength is in our diversity…without proof it is merely propaganda. Sticking to accepted facts (real ones) may be wise. (I’ve voted Liberal, NDP and Green if you are wondering ..not a Conservative)

"Aboriginal Peoples When Europeans explored Canada they found all regions occupied by native peoples they called Indians, because the first explorers thought they had reached the East Indies. The native people lived off the land, some by hunting and gathering, others by raising crops. The Huron-Wendat of the Great Lakes region, like the Iroquois, were farmers and hunters. The Cree and Dene of the Northwest were hunter-gatherers. The Sioux were nomadic, following the bison (buffalo) herd. The Inuit lived off Arctic wildlife. West Coast natives preserved fish by drying and smoking. Warfare was common among Aboriginal groups as they competed for land, resources and prestige. The arrival of European traders, missionaries, soldiers and colonists changed the native way of life forever. Large numbers of Aboriginals died of European diseases to which they lacked immunity. However, Aboriginals and Europeans formed strong economic, religious and military bonds in the first 200 years of coexistence which laid the foundations of Canada."

Comment edited by osborne on 2017-12-14 22:44:31

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