Indigenous

Citizenship oath sworn by new Canadians now recognizes Indigenous rights

New Canadians are now swearing a revised oath of citizenship that recognizes Indigenous rights, but are still studying the old citizenship guide that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also recommended be revised.

Revised citizenship study guide coming soon

The first citizenship ceremony using the new oath happened last week. ( Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)

New Canadians are now swearing a revised oath of citizenship that recognizes Indigenous rights, but are still studying the old citizenship guide that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission also recommended be revised.

Bill C-8, which amended the wording of the oath in the Citizenship Act, received royal assent and became law on June 21.

The next day, 31 new Canadians swore the new oath at a citizenship ceremony presided over by Suzanne Carrière, the first Métis citizenship judge in Canada.

Carrière said a few people expressed to her after the ceremony how meaningful it was to say the new oath. 

She said the new oath was long overdue because it's been over six years since the TRC's final report was released.

Suzanne Carrière is Canada's first Métis citizenship judge (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The TRC's 94th call to action called on the government to replace the oath with the wording "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 fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen."

The language of the new oath is slightly different, reading "I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada, including the Constitution, which recognizes and affirms the Aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples . . ."

The new oath of citizenship can be found in the Discover Canada citizenship guide, although the guide itself has not been updated yet. (Rhiannon Johnson CBC)

According to the federal government, the wording was changed after consulting with First Nations, Inuit and Métis organizations and leaders to better reflect the diverseness of Indigenous people in Canada. 

Revised citizenship guide coming soon

The Truth and Reconciliation's 93rd call to action recommended the government update the citizenship study guide to reflect a more inclusive history including information about treaties and residential schools.

One of the requirements to becoming a Canadian citizen is to write a citizenship test based on the information provided in the citizenship guide. The current guide and its test have not been updated since 2012.

Ranjan Datta, a Canada research chair-II in community disaster research at Indigenous Studies at the Department of Humanities at Mount Royal University in Calgary, edited the 2019 book Reconciliation in Practice: A Cross-Cultural Perspective.

He said when he first came to Canada, he had many misconceptions about Indigenous people, their cultures and history. He said there are many gaps in education within the Canadian citizenship system.

"There was no formal education opportunity about the land we live on," he said. 

The revised citizenship oath "is a good starting point but it's not enough," he said.

Alexander Cohen, press secretary for the office of the minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said a revised citizenship guide will be coming soon. 

"It will be comprehensive, diverse and honest — helping new Canadians understand Canada's past and present, and their role in shaping our shared future," he said. 

"Central to our work is ensuring that new Canadians understand the integral role of the Indigenous Peoples of this land." 

A spokesperson from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said it has been involved in the process to update the guide since 2017. The Assembly of First Nations and the Métis National Council were also consulted in the process. 

The new guide will have roughly 10 chapters giving more attention to groups such as francophones, Black Canadians, the LGBTQ community and Canadians with disabilities. 

Chapter three will include a section on treaties and the Indian Act and more information on residential schools, like the physical and sexual abuse suffered by many students, and the fact that many children died there and were buried in unmarked graves.

The new citizenship study guide is expected to be completed and released at some point later this year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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