Editorial: Include recognition of treaty relationships in our citizenship oath

Treaties Recognition Week

As we head into the celebration of Treaties Recognition Week (November 2 to 9), the Canadian government has announced plans and introduced legislation, again, that would amend our nation’s citizenship oath to include a reference to the rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada—as recommended by Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Call to Action No. 94. A previous such move fell off the transom when Parliament was prorogued.

This time it looks like this simple and sensible move may make it across the legislative finish line. Although the Liberal minority government will need the support of at least one of the opposition parties, the NDP has long advocated for the implementation of all of the TRC recommendations and the Conservatives have not signalled any antipathy to the idea.

The new proposed language for the oath reads as follows: “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 the constitution, which recognizes and affirms the aboriginal and treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples, and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen.”

This move is long overdue.

Canada is a nation founded by immigrants and it was the treaty relationship and alliances with First Nations that brought it succor during both the American revolutionary war and the War of 1812. Without the staunch rearguard defence our Anishinaabe allies, led by Tecumseh during the latter conflict, it is no exaggeration to suggest there would be no Canada today.

Our nation enshrines the treaty relationship with Canada’s first peoples in our constitution, one of the few nations in the world to do so, and it is something that we, as a nation, should take great pride in. But there are serious issues that remain unresolved in that relationship and, with literally hundreds of thousands of immigrants coming to our shores each and every year, the political will to deal with those issues can and must be reinforced by concrete action.

Setting recognition and commitment to uphold the treaties and treaty relationships must begin, first and foremost, with a fundamental awareness that these relationships exist and what they say about being Canadian.

Certainly there are far too many Canadians whose citizenship is conferred by birthright who remain unaware of the foundational aspects of our nation—that is a shortcoming of our provincial curriculums that also needs to be addressed—but when it comes to welcoming new Canadians into the fold, this move to include recognition in the oath is simple, sensible and long, long overdue. Better late than never.

Now as to those other TRC recommendations…