Where it All Begins

Participating in last week’s citizenship ceremony in Fredericton was the highlight of my year thus far. It was a privilege to play a role in such an important moment in the lives of 61 women, men, youth and children from 21 different countries, as they became Canadian citizens. The auditorium at the Wu Centre overflowed with pride and excitement. It was profoundly moving to bear witness to people of every race and creed joining the Canadian family.
Everyone had a unique arrival story, and everyone had their own story of departure from their country of birth. In my remarks, I pointed out that this is true for all Canadians except for the indigenous peoples of this land, who have creation stories born of this place, rather than arrival stories.

It is important that we pass these stories across the generations, so we don’t forget what it was like for our ancestors to arrive in New Brunswick as refugees, immigrants, indentured labourers or indeed, as slaves, or in the case of Acadians – to return from exile. It helps us appreciate the challenges that newcomer families face in a new country. And it is important for newcomers to know that our own families faced challenges on their arrival, even though it may have been many generations ago.

I spoke about the tremendous opportunity this moment in time offers as we begin down the road to reconciliation with the first peoples of what became the country of Canada, 150 years ago.

June 2nd will mark 2 years since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its 94 calls to action to point us towards a path to reconciliation with the First Nations and redress the terrible legacy of abuse and cultural genocide that took place at Indian Residential Schools.

Senator Murray Sinclair, chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said, “Starting now, we all have an opportunity to show leadership, courage and conviction in helping heal the wounds of the past as we make a path towards a more just, more fair and more loving country.” To be a citizen means to be engaged, to embrace the challenge of Senator Sinclair, and to act on it.

New Brunswick has been slow to act. Implementing the Calls to Action does not appear in the political priorities earnestly repeated by the Premier and cabinet ministers in their public pronouncements, nor has implementation of the Calls to Action been a preoccupation of the Legislative Assembly.

This is why the practice of active citizenship is essential. As I said to the 61 new Canadians last week, citizenship carries with it the responsibility to be actively engaged in society. When there is injustice, when there is a fissure in the fabric of our society, it is incumbent on citizens to pursue justice, to build bridges among peoples and communities, and to demand their elected representatives do the same. There is a Wolastoqiyik word Tetpawtihkene, which means, “Let’s re-align our path toward a shared vision.” This will take active citizenship to get there.

This year we are marking the 150th anniversary of Confederation. There will be many opportunities for Canadians, newly minted and otherwise, to participate in the celebrations. But the silence in our Province on the imperative of reconciliation, and on the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, will hover like a dark cloud over the festivities.

Our Department of Tourism’s slogan, “Where it all began” to mark Canada 150, has been raising eyebrows across the country. Confederation, of course, was conceived in Charlottetown at a meeting originally called to discuss the Maritime Union. It took form in Quebec City with 72 constitutional resolutions, and was birthed in London, with New Brunswick serving as midwife along the way. So it didn’t all begin in New Brunswick.

What did begin in New Brunswick was the establishment of Indian residential schools in 1787 in Sussex, Maugerville and Meductic, a century before Canada embarked down this dark chapter of our history.

My dream is that as citizens, we come together to embark on a meaningful path of reconciliation so all our children can one day say with pride, “This is where it all began.”

David Coon is the Leader of the Green Party and the MLA for Fredericton-South.