Speaking Notes for the Honourable Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship: Announcement related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action 17

Speech

Announcement related to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 17
Ottawa, Ontario
June 14, 2021

As delivered

Good morning, bonjour, kwey. I’m happy to be joined by my colleagues, Ministers Bennett and Miller. And as we begin, I wish to acknowledge that we are joining you from the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinabek people.

Thank you to my colleagues for being here to talk about this important news.

At the end of Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, the Commissioners noted that in November 2012, elders from Indigenous nations and many other cultures gathered for two days on Musqueam territory in British Columbia. Following their meeting, the elders issued a statement about how reconciliation could help Canada to move forward. They said, and I quote, "As Canadians, we share a responsibility to look after each other and acknowledge the pain and suffering that our diverse societies have endured, a pain that has been handed down to the next generations. We need to right those wrongs, heal together and create a new future that honours the unique gifts of our children and grandchildren. How do we do this? Through sharing our personal stories, legends and traditional teachings, we found that we are interconnected through the same mind and spirit. Our traditional teachings speak to acts such as holding one another up, walking together, balance, healing and unity. Our stories show how these teachings can heal their pain and restore dignity. We discovered that in all of our cultural traditions, there are teachings about reconciliation, forgiveness, unity, healing and balance."

The elders provided us with this hopeful message because in their wisdom, they knew there would be difficult moments on the path to reconciliation, but that we would be able to continue that work as Canadians by drawing strength from one another. Today, we take one more step together by responding to Call to Action 17, which will allow residential school survivors and their families to reclaim their names on their passports and other travel documents; names that had been stolen from them by the residential schools.

Our names are among the first things we receive. They’re individualized, unique, they speak to our past, honouring those who came before us and reflect our family’s history. Naming children is a profoundly important tradition across many different cultures and communities. The traditional names given to Indigenous children carry deep cultural meaning. Yet, for many First Nations, Inuit and Métis people, colonialism has robbed them of these sacred names. Indigenous children, stolen from their families, to be forced into the residential school system, had even their very names stolen from them, as the testimonials of the survivors, which are contained in the TRC final report, lay out in painful detail.

At the Aklavik Anglican School in the Northwest Territories, a young Inuit girl named Masak became Alice. She would not hear her original name until she returned home. At the Qu’Appelle School in Saskatchewan, Path Maker became Daniel Kennedy and Adélard Standing (inaudible) was named for Adélard Langevin. Over the years, Indigenous peoples have courageously been reclaiming their names. At times, efforts to use traditional names have been met with everything from polite rejection to racist aggression.

Many Indigenous people have faced obstacles from government, the police, schools and other institutions when they have tried to reclaim these names as a means for expressing their Indigenous identity. A few years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission brought this issue to light and we cannot ignore it. With the Kamloops tragedy, Indigenous communities have once again been faced with the painful and lasting legacy of the residential school system.

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action No. 17 called on all levels of government to enable residential school survivors and their families to reclaim their Indigenous names on identity documents. And today, I’m proud to announce that the Government has implemented Call to Action No. 17. Effective immediately, Indigenous individuals can now apply to reclaim their names as written on passports and other identity documents. While Call to Action 17 specifically referenced passports, as the Minister, we have gone further and are including replacement travel documents, including citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards. As well, it will apply not only to residential school survivors and their families, but to all Indigenous people in Canada and it will be totally free.

In order for individuals seeking to reclaim their traditional names to have clear means of making this significant change, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (inaudible) the process of reclamation, making it faster and more efficient for applicants.

As we make this important change, I want to take a moment to mention our progress towards fulfilling two more of the TRC’s Calls to Action. Last Thursday, the Senate passed Bill C-8 amending Canada’s oath of citizenship to reference First Nations, Inuit and Métis rights and our obligations to uphold the treaties. This answers Call to Action No. 94. And as I said at the time, the oath of citizenship is more than mere words. It’s a public declaration of belonging. Now, new citizens will understand their role in reconciliation the moment they join the Canadian family.

And in response to Call to Action No. 93, my department is currently hard at work updating our citizenship guide to give newcomers a thorough and honest account of Canadian history, one that emphasizes the role and stories of Indigenous peoples, including those parts that relate to residential schools and more. And we look forward to sharing it with Canadians very shortly. Reconciliation requires all of us, including our newest Canadians.

I am deeply honoured to be joining Ministers Bennett and Miller in making this announcement today. I will now hand things over to Minister Bennett. Thank you.

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