Here's how you can help new Canadians understand their role in reconciliation

| December 16, 2015

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This holiday season has partnered with Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto to launch a campaign urging Canadians to take up implementing the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a New Year's resolution for 2016. Here's how. Let's start with Recommendation #93.

This week we are talking about how new Canadians can serve an important role in reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples through Recommendations #93 which provides as follows:

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.

The vast territory that is now known as Canada is really a collection of territories forming a vast ecosystem that has been governed by diverse Indigenous Nations, like the Mi'kmaq, Wolastoqiyik, and Haudenosaunee, since time immemorial. It is critically important to reconciliation that all Canadians understand the true history and current reality of this territory, including new Canadians. All Canadians are in fact newcomers when considered in the context of the many thousands of years that Indigenous Nations have occupied these lands. The only difference being that newer Canadians may feel detached from the wrongdoings of the past.

Neither the citizenship test, nor the information kit for immigrants contains sufficient information about the origins of Canada to afford immigrants a true understanding of why they are also implicated in reconciliation. It is critical that new Canadians understand that it is a privilege to live in Indigenous territories and that all of the benefits of their new citizenship come directly from the historical and ongoing dispossession and oppression of Indigenous peoples. Amendments to the information kits and citizenship tests will help, but it is not enough.

Newcomers need to understand that the very lands, waters, natural resources, wealth and power claimed by Canada, was not earned, but instead stolen from Indigenous peoples. Canada's Indian policy was to eliminate and assimilate Indians by any means -- including physical, biological and cultural genocide. 

If we are to move forward with true reconciliation, then the connection between Canada's dark past and the current bleak reality for Indigenous peoples must be part of every Canadian's education, but especially new Canadians who may feel detached from the actions committed before their arrival.

Why is this important?

If new Canadians don't know that being on these lands, drinking the water, and enjoying the many social benefits all come from Indigenous lands and resources, they will be less likely to honour their legal obligations to address this injustice. A full understanding of what it means to uphold the laws of Canada will include an explicit recognition that those laws include the treaties and laws of Indigenous Nations. Canada's continued failure to implement treaties has contributed to their poverty. Canada's laws and Indigenous laws require that this injustice be remedied and new Canadians, like all Canadians, have an obligation to act. 

Reconciliation not only requires truth-telling, but concrete actions to remedy the injustice. It requires reparations -- not just apologies. It requires exposing the history so we can change the future. Canada's very sovereignty is entirely dependent on the original and legitimate sovereignty of Indigenous Nations. Therefore, new Canadians and Indigenous Nations are tied together to protect and maintain these lands for our collective future generations.

Do you work or volunteer with organizations that help establish immigrants to Canada? If so, you can use the report and materials published by the TRC to help educate new Canadians. You can help lead reading or discussion groups on the TRC report in partnership with Indigenous peoples and/or their respective organizations. The TRC report could be made part of every welcome package provided to newcomers at your organization.

Do you work or volunteer at a local church, community group, library, school, university, or other venue which is accessed by the public? You could help facilitate lectures, work-shops or talking circles with Indigenous speakers to help more people learn about Canada's history and current realities. You could post information about related events being held by others. Many Indigenous communities and organizations also have their own materials that could also be shared.

Do you have access to a computer or are engaged in social media online? This is an excellent means to access even more new Canadians. You could research online discussion groups, forums and pages dedicated to new Canadians and share the TRC report, online articles, and links to Indigenous webpages and information sites. Seeking direction and guidance from the Indigenous Nation(s) local to your area will help ensure that this is done in a respectful way.

Reconciliation is much more than answering a few questions in a citizenship test -- it requires reparations that could be led by new Canadians.


Pam is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of Eel River Bar First Nation. She was a spokesperson and educator for the Idle No More movement and partners with other activists to advocate for social justice in Canada. She currently holds the position of Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.

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