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July 27, 2020

Indigenous input vital to a just immigration policy

The outrage against systemic racism following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has once again brought into sharp focus the violence experienced by Indigenous people in Canada.

 

A key responsibility of Canadian settler society is to address a root problem of centuries of colonialization that underlies this violence: the settling of the land through immigration without Indigenous consent or consultation.

 

Last year, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls concluded that colonial structures continue to be a source of violence and genocide.

 

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Earlier, in 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had drawn attention to immigration. The Commission’s Calls to Action contained 94 recommendations, the final two of which covered the topic “Newcomers to Canada:”

 

Recommendation No. 93 calls “upon the federal government, in collaboration with the national Aboriginal organizations, to revise the information kit for newcomers to Canada and its citizenship test to reflect a more inclusive history of the diverse Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, including information about the Treaties and the history of residential schools.”

 

And Recommendation No. 94 asks “to replace the Oath of Citizenship” with a new one that acknowledges Canada’s “Treaties with Indigenous Peoples” and the responsibility of new Canadians to honour these treaties.

 

Although the current federal government is working on implementing these two recommendations, they fail to address the ongoing colonialism ingrained in Canada’s immigration system.

 

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When I reflect on my own immigration experience as a setter in Canada, I become painfully aware of how colonialism continues to work through our immigration system.

 

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After I left my native Germany in the early 1990s and began university studies in Canada, I received a student visa because the Canadian government deemed me a desirable student. While I completed doctoral studies at Wilfrid Laurier University, I had enough education to qualify under Canada’s points system to immigrate.

 

A few years later, I met the residency and other requirements to become a Canadian citizen. The terms of qualifying for a student visa, receiving immigration status, and eventually being naturalized were entirely those of the Canadian settler state. Indigenous communities had no say in the process.

 

Had I come to Turtle Island on the invitation of Indigenous peoples and became a settler on Indigenous terms, I suspect the conditions for immigration and naturalization would have been very different.

 

Would I have been required to speak English or French? Would it have mattered that I was an advanced student in an educational system that was responsible for the horrors of residential schools? Would I have been required to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II and her heirs and successors? I don’t think so.

 

Indigenous people are sidelined when it comes to deciding who settles on this land. The entire immigration system — from initial entry to naturalization — remains steeped in colonialism. This system fails to foster a setter community that affirms the rights of Indigenous people as the original occupants of the land and that honours the treaties Indigenous people have made with the settlers.

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