When Esther Leung-Kong arrived in Canada in the 1990s, she learned nothing about the histories of Indigenous peoples on these lands. It wasn’t until she was 18 that she met two grandmothers from the Blackfoot Nation who were survivors of residential schools.
“When they shared with me their story, I was really shocked. I didn’t know this happened as an immigrant child growing up,” Leung-Kong told Canada’s National Observer.
Since then, Leung-Kong's passion is to educate her community. Now, the non-profit organization she works for has translated the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 calls to action into traditional Chinese characters. The B.C.-based Culture Regeneration Research Society says the translation was written as an act of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
Leung-Kong, the outreach ministry manager and co-ordinator for the project, says the translation will help overcome the language barrier, especially for older immigrants who didn’t have access to public education on Indigenous histories. There is a lack of resources in the Chinese community to provide education on Indigenous cultures and reconciliation, Leung-Kong notes.
“We launched this because I understand the difficulty of learning something in English,” Leung-Kong told Canada’s National Observer. “Immigrants absorb information much easier in their own language because they grew up with their own mother tongue.”
Leung-Kong says Cantonese and Mandarin speakers collaborated on the translation, but some terms, like “the Crown” and “treaties” could not be translated and were given Chinese characters within the text.
The translation comes on the heels of last year’s changes to the citizenship oath that recognize and affirm the treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples. The rewording was a response to the TRC’s call to action number 94 to update the Oath of Citizenship.
The federal government is also taking steps to fulfil number 93, which calls on the government to revise the information kit and citizenship test to reflect the diversity of Indigenous peoples.
The government is preparing a revised study guide and materials and a new citizenship kit, but a launch date has not been set. A Pre-Departure Guide for Newcomers to Canada workbook that includes content on Indigenous peoples’ culture, histories and reconciliation is available in English, and is set to be translated into French and 14 additional languages.
Until call 93 is addressed, it is left to non-governmental organizations like the Culture Regeneration Research Society to respond to Canada’s need for nation-to-nation collaboration on reconciliation.
The translation is part of a larger education project led by Leung-Kong called Eagles Rising that includes film screenings, a podcast and workshops to educate the Chinese community on Indigenous histories.
Elmer St. Pierre, national chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) in Ottawa, is heartened by the new access for newcomers and immigrants to learn about reconciliation in their own languages, particularly in urban settings where immigrants and Indigenous peoples live side by side.
“CAP is encouraged to see newcomers learning about our rich history and cultures. Many new Canadians start their lives in urban centres where the majority of Indigenous peoples now live. Education and understanding are cornerstones that help lay the foundation for reconciliation,” Chief St. Pierre told Canada’s National Observer.
Leung-Kong stresses the importance for immigrant communities to have education materials on Indigenous histories in their own language.
“As immigrant settlers, here we are so blessed to be on this land, and Indigenous people have been the stewards of this land. We should know about the history,” Leung-Kong says.
“There’s much work to do, for our organization in the Chinese community, but also for other immigrant communities,” Leung-Kong says. “I encourage them to take consistent, long-term, meaningful action, and not just a one-time event. It should be a commitment to journey alongside Indigenous communities since we are neighbours.”
Matteo Cimellaro, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer