Dozens of Yellowknife residents were sworn in as new Canadians on Thursday at a special ceremony in Detah.
In total, 45 people from 26 different countries took the citizenship oath and received their official Canadian citizenship certificates at an event hosted by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, in conjunction with National Indigenous History Month.
“I feel so excited because I am Canadian now,” said Ivy Geronimo, who came to Canada from the Philippines in February 2008.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
The ceremony, the first of its kind to be held in Yellowknife, was preceded by a series of roundtable discussions where community leaders led talks about what it means to be Canadian.
A “roundtable leader” at each table encouraged the citizenship candidates to share stories of their experience in Canada and their journey toward citizenship.
The discussions were modelled on Indigenous sharing circles, according to Amy Matchen of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, a Toronto-based NGO that helped organize the ceremony along with the federal government.
“Its really important and memorable for people to be able to share their stories and their journey about what it means to be Canadian,” said Matchen.
Matchen said the ICC always invites an Indigenous elder to participate in citizenship ceremonies it organizes as part of the organization’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation process. At Thursday’s ceremony, former Detah chief Jonas Sangris began the event with opening remarks.
“The three-way conversations between new Canadians, established Canadians, and Indigenous peoples as the stewards of the land, is a great way for citizenship to begin,” said Matchen.
The new citizens were also welcomed by a delegation that included N.W.T. Commissioner Margaret Thom, Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod and Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty.
Thom encouraged the new citizens to learn about Indigenous culture and history while Alty invited them to get involved in community events in Yellowknife.
Swati Verma, who arrived in Canada from India seven years ago, said hosting the ceremony in an Indigenous community was a significant part of the experience.
“When I prepared for my citizenship exam I learned a lot about Indigenous people. They have a very rich history … and I’m so pleased that they invited us here,” said Verma.
Ivy Geronimo, who was all smiles after the ceremony, said she’s thankful for the opportunity to become a Canadian.
“Being a Canadian to me is being with people who love diversity and who embrace different cultures and give opportunities to people like us coming from different places,” she said.