Musqueam Indian Band to host historic citizenship awards

On Saturday, June 25, the Musqueam Indian Band, with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, will be holding a historic citizenship awards ceremony at the Musqueam Cultural Pavilion, located in the Musqueam Indian community situated on traditional Musqueam Indian Band lands.

“From my knowledge, it’s the first time one (a Canadian citizenship awards ceremony) will be held on reserve lands in B.C. -- and maybe even right across Canada," said Wade Grant, Musqueam Indian Band councillor and business operations co-ordinator. "I’ve been told it’s never happened before."

With the help of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a national non-profit organization that aids in arranging citizenship awards ceremonies and helping new Canadian citizens become acclimated to life in Canada, the Musqueam Indian Band hopes to “reach out” to new immigrants. 

Building cultural bridges

“The history of First Nations’ relationship with the Canadian government hasn’t always been a good one, with some of the policies that were put in place -- the assimilation policies and things of that nature,” said Grant. In the 19th century, the Canadian government took an "agressive assimilation" policy heralded by residential schools, which is widely blamed today for the erosion of aboriginal languages and cultures.

“But we’re moving forward here in Musqueam, and we’re trying to reconcile," said Grant. "Not just with the government of Canada, but with all the different communities in Canada.”

Grant explained that First Nations communities and immigrant communities share the status of being among Canada’s fastest-growing cultural demographics. However, many new immigrants are told very little about First Nations peoples or their cultures when they arrive to Canada.

Grant's hope is that events such as the citizenship award ceremony might go far in showing that First Nations communities, too, can be inclusive. “There’s this aura about aboriginal people, that we’re very shut in and closed-off from society -- and we’re not,” said Grant.

The Musqueam Band anticipates that sharing cultural events such as this will not only give new Canadians an opportunity to learn about their aboriginal community, but also help Musqueam people get to know new Canadians as well. The Musqueam Band’s chief and council agree, and so do those that Grant has informed of the upcoming ceremony.

"The chief and council were on board the moment we brought the idea forward," said Grant. “It’s something that we’re really looking forward to.”

Grant, whose grandfather was Chinese and whose great-grandfather was Norwegian, says that the Musqueam community, being the only First Nations reserve located within Vancouver city limits, has had a hundred-year tradition of being inclusive to new immigrants -- a history much like that of the city of Vancouver itself.  

A history of making history

The Musqueam Cultural Pavilion already holds a good record of inclusion and outreach, having been the 2010 Aboriginal Pavilion for the Winter Olympic Games held in Vancouver from February 12-18 in 2010. One of the main goals of its construction, along with economic development and the creation of youth sport initiatives, was to reach out to the world by showcasing First Nations art and culture.

It also has a history of making history. Built by the Four Host First Nations and their many partners, the Pavilion marked the first time that indigenous peoples of any country were included as official partners in the hosting of an Olympic Games.

One of the founders and CEO of the Four Host First Nations, Tewanee Joseph, said that from the idea of the Pavilion’s inception it was aimed at involving as many of Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples as possible. In the end, representation from each province arrived and participated -- First Nations, Métis and Inuit-- representing all of Canada’s diverse indigenous cultures. 

“I believe it’s a new time in Canada, not only for indigenous peoples, but also for all Canadians,” said Joseph. “We haven’t had the greatest history in this country, in terms of relationships, but I believe it’s a different time now.”

Support for the Pavilion from visitors was overwhelming. “There were messages from non-aboriginal people saying they were proud to be our neighbours. They were proud to stand with us and those are the kind of things that are invaluable in terms of the relationships and where we go in this country that we have.”

A new purpose -- same spirit

As for the re-purposing of the Pavilion as the Musqueam Cultural Pavilion, Joseph could not be happier.

“As I walked through it a couple months ago, it just took me back to that place,” said Joseph. “And I think what people are going to experience is a little bit of the Games, but also the spirit of the Musqueam people as well -- and I think that’s just fantastic.”

The spirit of the Musqueam people is just what Grant and the chief and council of the Musqueam Indian Band hope that new Canadians will come away knowing a little bit more about, while forging some new relationships along the way.

“The main thing that Musqueam wants people to know -- especially those that are becoming new Canadians," said Grant, "is that aboriginal people want to reach out and create those relationships with them and allow them to come and learn about aboriginal people.” 

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