Earlier in the summer, I was offered the chance to participate in an interesting opportunity with the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC). Having recently worked with the ICC in April on an event called 6 Degrees Vancouver: Are You Home?, I was thrilled to accept the opportunity of hosting a roundtable discussion at a Canadian Citizenship Ceremony taking place in Vancouver. These ceremonies are organized by the ICC to celebrate Canada’s newest citizens and to offer a unique space to reflect on what it means to be an engaged citizen.
This opportunity was exciting to me for two reasons. First, being born a Canadian citizen, I had never attended a citizenship ceremony and was curious to witness the process. Second, facilitation is one of my professional interests and this was my first opportunity to really dive in. Facilitation is leading important (and sometimes challenging) dialogue in a safe space for all participants involved. It is a process that requires the ability to listen openly and actively and demands the capability of respecting all individuals and their points of view.
Leading up to the ceremony day, I felt nervous. What if the new citizens don’t want to participate in my roundtable discussion? What if I run out of questions to ask? What if the conversation doesn’t flow? These nagging questions followed me around until the day of the ceremony.
On June 21st, walking over to the Bill Reid Art Gallery, I felt oddly calm about the impending day ahead. After checking in at the registration table, I entered the gallery. Named after the acclaimed Haida artist, Bill Reid, the gallery showcased contemporary Indigenous art of the Northwest Coast. I truly admired Reid’s artistic expression and his influence in building bridges between First Nations and other peoples. I felt humbled to be facilitating a discussion in a venue that reflected this.
Taking a seat at my designated roundtable, I was greeted by six nervous faces. I was joined by a man from the Middle East, two women originally from Asia, and their partners. After we all introduced ourselves, I felt my nerves melt away and conversation came naturally.
Most of our dialogue centered around what it meant for them to become a Canadian citizen, and what will be different for them as Canadian citizens. Although I can’t share the personal stories these individuals shared with me, I can divulge that the conversation included a group consensus on more freedom with travel, better job opportunities, accessible health care and the feeling of being safe in Canada. A new citizen at my table also explained that her process of becoming a Canadian citizen was long and the roundtable discussion was a positive way to reaffirm why she applied in the first place.
Once the discussion time was up, I could distinctly see a difference in the citizens’ demeanors. Nerves were replaced with feelings of happiness, pride and a sense of accomplishment. I too felt different, as I was reminded how lucky I was to have been born a Canadian citizen, in a country with the freedom to follow my dreams. Seven strangers coming together and feeling safe to share personal reflections, stories and challenges positively shifted the group’s overall feelings about the day and the process of becoming a Canadian citizen.
Watching the actual ceremony, I felt proud to witness the participants at my table officially become Canadian citizens. Thank you to the ICC and the Bill Reid Art Gallery for putting together a beautiful ceremony, the other roundtable facilitators for holding the space for impactful discussions and most importantly, congratulations to the new Canadian citizens! Thank you for letting me be part of your special day.