If you are Canadian by birth, I highly recommend that you put your attendance at a Citizenship ceremony high on your bucket list.
It’s not as death-defying as sky diving or as other-worldly as scuba diving, but watching 46 new Canadians receive their citizenship certificates on June 13th at the Oil Sands Discovery Centre was for me an intense emotional reminder of how great is “our home and native land.”
Citizenship ceremonies co-sponsored by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship include an extra component: Round Table discussions. The Round Table (see the photos at right) is designed to introduce the new Canadians to recognized community leaders, who serve as Round Table hosts. After introductions, the respective Round Tables address topics such as: Why did you choose Canada? How did you arrive in Wood Buffalo? What has been the most challenging issue for you since your arrival in the region?
After a 90-minute conversation, each Round Table elects a spokesperson to summarize the highlights of the discussion. The summaries touch a wide range of emotions, from sad to thought-provoking, from dramatic to joyous. In one instance, one of the spokespeople became so overwhelmed with gratitude she excused herself and sat down, but after regaining her composure she expressed thanks on behalf of her family and fellow countrymen from Venezuela and Columbia who travel to Canada to attain their dreams of a better, more peaceful life.
The Round Table hosts were: Alexandra Tarasenco (FuseSocial), Allan Vinni (Wood Buffalo municipal councilor and McMurray Law Office), Beverley Makia (STEM Wood Buffalo), Cheryl Cooper (Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB)), Daniel Pradeep (RMWB), Darren Henry (Royal Bank), Glenda Little-Kulai (Keyano College), Guy Harmer (Keyano College), Ifeautu Efu (Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo), Jennifer Lamontagne (FuseSocial), Judith Slattery (Community Network), Karen Johnson (Fort McMurray Tourism), Kerry Ferguson (Keyano College), Kyle Harrietha (Metis Local 1935), Mary Thomas (Multicultural Association) Melonie Doucette (Government of Alberta), Nancy Jodoin (Royal Bank) and Ramazan Nassery (YMCA of Wood Buffalo).
Some of the new citizens sharing their stories of building their lives in Canada were: Beverley Makia, Marnie Pacturan, Benby Areeckal, Shujin Yin, Riyaz Fuzal, Gifty Takyibea, DingYi Zhao, Shu Jiang Wang, Marisa D. Rumbolt, Oscar Jose Lugo Dusme, Luisa Carrasco de Lugo, Candice Mulenure, Kumbirayi Mutenure, Tinoda Mutenure, Imam AsJad Nazir, Tarisai Bere, Lee Dunn, Innocent Mutenure, Ifeatu Efu, Olivia Adie, Maesan Depositario, Judith Louise Ferre, Liban Cabdullani Maxamed, Ericko Lat Capila, Bradley Godbeer, Zohra Ali, Sahrish Aslam, James Paul, Marie Lotroli, Rodina Badran, Jonathan Lordoba, Mandeep Pool, Millet Mkandapi, Mohamad Kdouh, Scott Dunn, Dale Davies, Militza Josefina Camero Soto and Xiaoyan Chen.
Note: Spellings of the names above were taken from written signatures. Our apologies if a name is not spelled accurately. Corrections can be emailed to me at email@example.com.
Many of the participants spoke of now being able to vote in municipal, provincial and federal elections and having the freedom to shape their families futures by being active and involved in the political process and their community. Others described the terrible shock of the long winters, where those especially from much warmer climates not only need gloves and special foot wear, but protection for the eyes, nose and mouth as well. A consistent theme was their excitement about qualifying for citizenship. There were also many praises for our health care system, as imperfect as it may be.
Their stories and comments brought back memories of teaching English for two years at the University of Hebei in Qinhuangdao, China, where I met a family of six that did not own a pair of shoes, who squatted on public park land and sold honey in order to purchase rice and other staples. I valued being Canadian when I left for China; I have treasured it since my return and I am sure every new Canadian engaged in the Round Tables on June 13th feels the same way.
I want to thank the sponsors of the Round Table event: Fort McMurray Tourism, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, the Royal Bank and Tim Hortons. I also want to give recognition to the volunteer committee members, who organized the event so well: Eliana Urrea (YMCA), Jessica Barry (RMWB), Kouame Adie (Centre d’acceuil et D’establissment), Mary Thomas (Multicultural Association), Nicole Greville (Fort McMurray Public Library) Ayesha Khan (Royal Bank) and Peter Hanson (Keyano College).
Observing the new Canadians at the Round Tables and hearing their commentaries underscored how very fortunate we are as citizens, whether by birth or by choice.