British Columbia

Petition calling for more representation of Indigenous people in citizenship guide headed to House of Commons

A petition asking for the federal government to include more robust information about Indigenous people in its citizenship guide and exam has gather 639 signatures — enough to be tabled in the House of Commons. For B.C. Indigenous people and newcomers, it's been a long time coming.

Current guide refers to Indigenous people as 'Indians' and says residential school ended in the 1980s

Taleetha Tait says she is encouraged about the potential changes coming to Canada's citizenship guide, exam and oath and says the more Canadians know about Indigenous people, the more understanding and dialogue can be built.

A petition to include more robust Indigenous history and knowledge in Canada's citizenship guide has garnered enough signatures to be tabled in the House of Commons.

Twenty-two-year-old Mariam Manaa, a summer intern for Oakville North-Burlington Liberal MP Pam Damoff, created the online petition asking the federal government to redesign the current Discover Canada study guide curriculum and citizenship exam.

"You're talking about a whole book and a significant part of our history. It's not even a full chapter we are talking about. It's just a page, under the Who We Are section — those things are part of our history and are just as important," Manaa said.

In a statement, the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship told CBC it was undertaking broader consultations with a wider range of stakeholders "to ensure the revised content of the Citizenship Study Guide is representative of Canadians, including Indigenous peoples." 

An exact launch date has not yet been determined.

The mandate letter for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen also lists making the change to the swearing-in ceremony as one of his key priorities.

Indigenous people from B.C. say changes critical

For Wet'suwet'en and African-American youth Taleetha Tait, changes to the guide are critical.

"It allows our experiences to be acknowledged and not to be judged," Tait said.

"I feel better about new people coming to Canada and learning the truth and not hiding the wrongs, so there is less ignorance," she added. 
Ry Moran is the Director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation. He says the current Canadian citizenship guide and exam are outdated and do not reflect a realistic Canadian history that included difficult relationships at the time of colonization.

Information about Indigenous people in the citizenship guide is placed in the "Canada's History" and the "Who We Are" sections.

The first describes the hunting and gathering practices and traditional diets of Indigenous people. For example, it says "West Coast natives preserved fish by drying and smoking." It also adds "warfare was common among Aboriginal groups as they competed for land, resources and prestige."

The Indigenous section under "Who We Are"  starts with "the ancestors of Aboriginal peoples are believed to have migrated from Asia many thousands of years ago." It uses the word "Indian" and "Aboriginal" to describe Indigenous people and says residential school ended in the 1980s.

Ry Moran, the director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, says the guide is not giving newcomers the tools needed to participate in important conversations Canadians are currently having.

"It's a very good example of a document that presents very poor information on Indigenous people and absolutely needs to be rewritten," Moran said.

"It repeats the general narrative that there were Indigenous Peoples, there was a brief period of relationship and then goes into the predominant settler narrative. It doesn't talk about the difficult relationship or serve newcomers well," he added. 

Changes a long time coming says new Canadian

There are two Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action pushing the federal government to revise the information kit for newcomers, the citizenship test and the oath to reflect an accurate portrayal of Indigenous people.

Kue K’nyawmupoe came in Canada when she was 15 years old as a refugee from Burma and is now a Canadian citizen. She says she is relieved the new citizenship guide and exam will be updated and wished she had learned more about Indigenous people when she first arrived.

They call on the Government of Canada to change the Oath of Citizenship to observe treaties with Indigenous Peoples.

The guide currently says Aboriginal and treaty rights are in the Canadian Constitution, but there is nothing about treaties in the oath.

Kue K'nyawmupoe came to Canada as a Burmese refugee and is now a Canadian citizen. She says she is relieved the new citizenship guide and exam will be updated and wished she had learned more about Indigenous people when she first arrived. 

"That is a very good change that has needed to happen for a very long time, and it would be very useful for Canadians  to recognize the first people of Canada, to be more inclusive," K'nyawmupoe said.

In July, the Canadian Press obtained a copy of the federal government's draft of the new citizenship guide showing a significant overhaul to acknowledge colonization, including experiences in residential school and even including an observation of treaties in the oath.

Now that the electronic petition has more than 500 signatures (it received 639), MP Pam Damoff will present the petition when the House of Commons resumes Jan. 29. The federal government will then be required to respond. 


Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea?