They came to feel safe.
They came to give their children a better future.
They came to avoid political, religious and cultural persecution
They came because the risks of staying were far greater that the risks of the journey.
Who are “they”?
If you are Canadian, “they” are each and every one of us.
The Syrian Refugee you see on TV is the small town industrial worker from Europe who came to Canada in the first half of the last century.
The Syrian Refugee you see on your Facebook feed is the Acadian farmer who settled in the Maritimes in the 1700’s.
The Syrian Refugee you see on Twitter is the eastern European pioneer that built western Canada from the dirt up.
The Syrian Refugee you see on TV is the African Canadian who made it to Canada via the Underground Railroad escaping slavery in the United States.
The Syrian Refugee you see on your newsfeed is the Scottish and Irish settler who carved a life out of the woods on the Atlantic coast in the 1800’s.
Our immigration policies have never been perfect and have often reflected the flawed leadership thinking “of that time”. Head taxes, continuous voyage policies and work camp internments are part of our history that we have had to wrestle with but, hopefully, we have learned from.
Many of our First Nations hosts in Canada hold that their oral histories indicate that the genesis of their peoples originated in North America. Genetic studies indicate that some of their histories may have included migration from Eastern Asia or western Eurasia thousands of years ago. What our aboriginal neighbors have in common with all of these other groups who came here, is their understanding of importance of community. Specifically, community based leadership.
Communities cannot be bought or traded for; they can only be built from within. Canada is a country of communities. The people who live there, whether they are neighborhoods in large cities, small prairie hamlets, coastal villages, or small lake towns, built these communities because they needed to.
There were no groups or outside agencies that came in to design, decide and construct these communities for the people in them. It was the leadership of the people in them who decided that they wanted a place to work and live and play that would provide a place for them and their children to connect, communicate, collaborate and care for each other.
This most recent group of new Canadians, just like the ones from the last few centuries, will come and they will benefit greatly. They will also add, build and contribute just like your ancestors did. Just like my ancestors did.
There are many parts of our collective Canadian identity that will get passed on to individuals and groups as they transition here. The sense of ownership and ability to contribute directly to the communities in which they live are among the most valuable. We are really a country of communities with a very strong sense of place that enables us to be comfortably different.
Many have said it; we are the ones we have been waiting for. What role will you play?