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:
- Canada is a country that was founded during the era of colonization;
- Policies implemented by the colonizing Nations and respective Canadian governments aimed at the assimilation of Indigenous Nations into a homogenized Canadian society;
- In recent history, Canada has embraced that diversity which is at the core of our national identity and strength;
- The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has called on all Canadians to begin the process of reconciliation and the current government has reiterated that there is no more important relationship than the one between the government of Canada and Indigenous Nations;
- The current Discover Canada Study Guide and Citizenship Exam does not include any requirement to learn about the Indigenous Nations of Canada.
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, Call to Action 93, "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 because, "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 2 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, believes this to be a very important undertaking. Melander who has read the study guide 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 Honourable 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 p.m. (EDT).
A version of this article appeared in NOW Magazine on November 29, 2017.
Photo: Canadian Pacific/Flickr
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