Crown-First Nations Gathering
Ottawa, Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Thank you for your warm welcome. I am delighted to be here.
This gathering is taking place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation which spans the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Elder Commanda, I thank you for welcoming us to the Algonquin territory.
I am very pleased to acknowledge the presence of the Chiefs of the Algonquin communities in this region.
From the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan in Ontario, we have Chief Kirby Whiteduck and from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg in Quebec, we have Chief Gilbert Whiteduck.
It is an honour to have you both here with us, and we thank you.
I also want to express my deepest appreciation for the wampum belt. I am honoured to accept this sacred gift of friendship and diplomacy on behalf of all Canadians.
In the same spirit, I am pleased to offer you as a symbol of our enduring friendship a painting by John David Kelly, which depicts the co-operation of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal soldiers at the Battle of Queenston Heights in October 1812.
Let me begin by commending you for the leadership you have shown in coming together for this important gathering.
I am inspired, and I am hopeful, seeing us here together.
My hope is that this gathering will serve as the foundation for a renewed and strengthened relationship between the Crown and First Nations. By going back to first principles, we can work with greater confidence—together—to create a brighter future for our families, our communities and our country.
That is my hope, and I know it is one we all share. For inspiration, let us go back and remind ourselves of all that we have in common, and the values that we share.
As governor general, I have been inviting Canadians to imagine ways to build a smarter, more caring Canada. One way we can do this is by understanding and respecting our past as a source of renewal.
We have deep roots together, of shared promise and partnership. This was reflected in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which sought to achieve balance by allowing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to co-exist and work together in the land we now call Canada. The Royal Proclamation pre-dated Confederation by more than 100 years and is the foundation of our modern relationship.
The basic premise was mutual respect.
But let us go back even further, to the days of Samuel de Champlain and the scene of the First Nations assembly of 1603, known as the Great Tabagie.
As historian David Fischer has written, this assembly, in which European and First Nation leaders seized the opportunity to establish good relations for mutual benefit, marked the beginning of an important alliance:
“[The European and First Nations leaders] treated each other with dignity, forbearance and respect. They began to build an atmosphere of trust that was fundamental to relations between Europeans and [First Nations] …When trust grew strong, many things were possible.”
That remains true today. When trust is strong, many things are possible.
In the wake of the 1763 Royal Proclamation, Sir William Johnson, the first Superintendent of Indian Affairs who strongly believed in equitable coexistence between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, held a grand council at Niagara with some 2,500 First Nations peoples.
At this meeting, Sir William extended the “Covenant Chain”, which represents the core of the Crown's relationship with its First Nations allies, to all First Nations. In doing so, Sir William was calling upon both First Nations peoples and European settlers to live together in a peaceful and mutually beneficial relationship.
This gathering today is the modern version of that important council. And we have an opportunity to continue restoring the trust we have lost through the mistakes of the past.
Without a doubt, many First Nations individuals and communities are achieving great success in Canada and the world today. But there is still much to be done on the road to reconciliation and recovery. Together, we must focus on building trust and to do so in ways, such as in the education sector, that are concrete and practical.
Our future hinges on our ability to share and to learn from each other, and to create the conditions in which Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people can thrive equally, according to their hopes and dreams.
In a country as vast and diverse as Canada, the learning never ends. And nor should it. Our greatest potential lies in what we have yet to learn.
As we open this gathering, let us reflect on the promise of this land that we share; let us strengthen and burnish the Covenant Chain that binds us, and pledge to renew our dreams together.
I would now like to declare this Crown-First Nations gathering open.