POLITICS
01/20/2019 10:46 EST | Updated 01/20/2019 13:27 EST

Canada’s Coat Of Arms Needs Redesign To Include Indigenous Peoples: Petition

Randolph Shrofel, a retired educator from Manitoba, says it's "just one more piece of the puzzle."

Canada's Coat of Arms is shown on the side of the Canadian airforce plane at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International airport in 2011.
CP
Canada's Coat of Arms is shown on the side of the Canadian airforce plane at Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International airport in 2011.

TORONTO — Randolph Shrofel isn't exactly sure where he was when he first took a good look at the front of his passport, only be struck by what was missing.

The retired high school guidance counsellor from Sandy Hook, Man. travels a lot these days with his wife Ruth, a former elementary school principal. Like many Canadians, Shrofel suspects, he never paid much mind to the golden coat of arms on the front of those ubiquitous leather booklets.

The emblem is one of nine official symbols adopted by the government of Canada to spark national pride. It can be found everywhere from official government documents and buildings to the prime minister's plane and the rank badges of some Canadian Forces members.

"Over a period of time, I noticed there is no Indigenous content in the coat of arms at all," he told HuffPost Canada. "And that started to make me think."

Tom Hanson/CP
A passenger holds a Canadian passport before boarding a flight in Ottawa on Jan 23, 2007.

In early December, Shrofel launched an electronic petition calling on the federal government to revise the coat of arms to "include representation of the Indigenous peoples of Canada (First Nations, Inuit and Métis) as co-founders of Canada."

The e-petition is being sponsored by Manitoba Liberal MP Robert Falcon-Ouellette, who hails from the Red Pheasant Cree First Nation and was a leading voice pushing for Indigenous languages to be translated in the House of Commons.

Ouellette suggested going the route of a grassroots petition, Shrofel says, where 500 valid signatures over a period of 120 days will trigger an official government response.

"I had never heard of these petitions myself, to be honest," Shrofel said with a laugh in a phone interview while on vacation in Florida.

More from HuffPost Canada:


'I don't think I really got it, OK?'

Shrofel is not an Indigenous person but says he started thinking more about reconciliation throughout an educational career often spent working with First Nations teens in Winnipeg's inner city.

"I don't think I really got it, OK?" he said. "And in my last few years of education, I started to understand the residential (schools) situation, like we all did... and how it's affecting the children, the parents, and the grandparents."

Shrofel says he was inspired by the 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into residential schools, but wasn't sure how he could contribute to change.

He hopes this might be one small way to move the needle.

Randolph Shrofel
Randolph Shrofel, from Sandy Hook, Man., launched an e-petition calling on the federal government to revise Canada's coat of arms.


Asked what he wants to see added to the coat of arms, Shrofel points to the artwork that was included when Canadian passports were revamped in 2013. You can find them "on page five," he notes: an Inukshuk, eagle feather, and the Métis infinity symbol.

Canada's coat of arms, adopted in 1921 by proclamation of King George V, features symbols celebrating England, Scotland, France, and Ireland as the "four founding nations of Canada," according to a government explainer.

In the middle of the symbol, you'll see the three royal lions of England, the royal lion of Scotland, the fleur-de-lis of France, and royal Irish harp of Tara. A lion of England is also shown holding the Royal Union Flag while the unicorn of Scotland hoists the flag of Royal France.

Look closer and you'll notice the English rose, the Scottish thistle, more fleur-de-lis, and the Irish shamrock.

It was last updated in 1994 to include the motto of the Order of Canada, which translates to: "They desire a better country."

Symbol looks 'like the coat of arms for Narnia,' ex-NDP MP said

In June 2008, then-NDP MP Pat Martin proposed in the House of Commons that it was high time to revamp the coat of arms to include acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples.

The symbol looks more "like the coat of arms for Narnia than for Canada," he told CBC News at the time. His motion ultimately fizzled out after Parliament dissolved that September for a snap election.

Ouellette, who ended up defeating Martin in the 2015 election, thinks it may be time to revive the conversation. He pointed to those same three symbols flagged by Shrofel — the Inukshuk, feather, and Métis infinity symbol — as natural ones to include in the crest.

"To see these symbols represented in our coat of arms would indicate to Indigenous peoples that we're all full citizens," Ouellette told HuffPost. "There are no second class citizens. We are all founding peoples of this nation and I think that is what Canada should be about."

Adrian Wyld/CP
Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette rises in the House of Commons on May 6, 2016.

The MP says the Canadian Heraldic Authority, the government service responsible for creating coats of arms, could be tapped to take the lead on the issue. A spokeswoman for the authority said it does not comment on possible changes to the arms of Canada.

Ouellette said he is impressed to see Shrofel step up in this way, suggesting it reflects what he was once told from an elder that "Indigenous peoples will become powerful again not by themselves but working hand-in-hand with non-Indigenous peoples."

The words are still prophetic today, he said.

"We live here together. We don't exist as islands onto ourselves but we actually have to live and work together."

The Assembly of First Nations does not have an official position on the petition but the organization has suggested changes to the coat of arms would be appropriate.

AFN says potential changes would be 'fitting'

"While there is no national resolution from First Nations on this, through trade and Treaty, First Nations have always been a part of the growth of this country," the AFN said in a statement to HuffPost.

"It would be fitting to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous peoples in the symbols that represent Canada."

Montreal changed its official coat of arms and flag in 2017 to highlight how Indigenous peoples also founded the city. A white pine tree was added to the middle of a crest that long showcased the fleur-de-lis, rose, thistle, and shamrock.

The city said at the time that the "tree of peace" was chosen as a symbol because its needles grow in clusters of five, representing unity between five First Nations: the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas.

Federal Liberals have shown a willingness in the past to revisit national symbols.

In 2016, Liberal MPs overwhelmingly supported a private member's bill to change Canada's national anthem. A lyric was tweaked from "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command" at the urging of veteran MP Mauril Bélanger, who later passed away from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.

Shrofel hopes the changes he is proposing could, in a small way, help reinforce that all people in Canada are equal. Symbols matter, he said.

"It's just another step. It's just one more piece of the puzzle."

Earlier: Trudeau town hall gets heated over Indigenous rights