Citizenship study guide remains outdated in 'simplistic' account of Indigenous history, critics say

·3 min read
A new Canadian holds a Canadian flag, their citizenship certificate and a letter signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they sing O Canada after becoming a Canadian citizen, during a Canada Day citizenship ceremony in West Vancouver on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A new Canadian holds a Canadian flag, their citizenship certificate and a letter signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they sing O Canada after becoming a Canadian citizen, during a Canada Day citizenship ceremony in West Vancouver on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

When Nazanin Moghadami started reading the Discover Canada guidebook in 2018 to prepare for her citizenship exam, she says she felt like she was being lied to about the country's real history.

While there were paragraphs about Hudson's Bay and hockey, she says she found nothing helpful and accurate about Indigenous history, treaties and residential schools.

"It was the most triggering text I have read in a long time," recalls Moghadami, who said she had educated herself about Indigenous history and culture before she started preparing for her citizenship test.

She had also taken the Indigenous Canada course, which explores key issues Indigenous peoples face today, before she picked up the citizenship guidebook.

On June 22, Canada adopted a revised citizenship oath that recognizes First Nations, Inuit and Métis rights.

But a revised Discover Canada study guide has yet to be revealed, something a number of Canadians say is needed to reflect a more inclusive history of Indigenous Peoples, treaties and residential schools.

"Reading [Discover Canada] felt like a bunch of lies, a very simplistic version of history in a way that was very biased and very much favoured picturing Europeans in a good light, really whitewashing the violence. It just sounded very hypocritical," said Moghadami, who immigrated to Canada from Iran in 2005.

'When Europeans explored Canada ...'

Discover Canada was last updated in 2012.

That's despite two of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action in 2015 urging the federal government to update the citizenship guide and test, as well as the oath, to reflect a more inclusive history of Indigenous Peoples and a recognition of their treaties and rights.

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

The first four words of the guide's section on Canada's history read: "When Europeans explored Canada..."

The only paragraph that describes residential schools mentions that the schools were "poorly funded" and "inflicted hardship" on students. "Some were physically abused," it says, and "Aboriginal languages and cultural practices were mostly prohibited."

Slow progress is typical of government, NDP says

Bill C-8, which amended the wording of the oath in the Citizenship Act, was first tabled in October 2020.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan says the time it took for the bill to pass is an example of how slowly the Trudeau government is moving when it comes to reconciliation.

Kiran Singh
Kiran Singh

"It is slow as molasses and, frankly, it's inexcusable. This call to action is what is deemed to be a really low-hanging fruit," Kwan said. She also criticized the time the Trudeau government has taken to compile the new Discover Canada guide.

"The new citizenship guidebook has been in the works for more than five years now," she said.

She added that she has asked the office of the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship about the timeline of an update but has yet to receive an answer.

Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, did not say exactly when an updated guide would be released.

"We have understood that it would make sense that we launch the citizenship guide as soon as we can in consort with the new oath of citizenship," he told CBC News.

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