War of 1812 National Recognition Ceremony
Presentation of the Commemorative War of 1812 Medal
and Banner to First Nations and Métis Communities
Rideau Hall, Thursday, October 25, 2012
My wife, Sharon, and I are pleased to welcome you to Rideau Hall, home of the Canadian people, for this important commemorative ceremony.
Let me begin by acknowledging that this gathering is taking place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Nation, which spans the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
Throughout my mandate, I have been fortunate to meet with Aboriginal peoples from across Canada, including at the Crown-First Nations Gathering here in Ottawa earlier this year.
At that gathering, I was deeply honoured to be presented with a sacred gift of friendship and diplomacy in the form of a wampum belt.
I want you to know that this wampum belt occupies a central place here at Rideau Hall, as a reminder of the covenant that binds us and of my responsibilities as a representative of the Crown. In recognition of the wampum belt’s great significance to our relationship we have brought it with us to the ballroom today.
Like the wampum belt, this ballroom itself can be seen as a symbol of our ties, with the portrait of Her Majesty The Queen sharing the room with paintings by some of Canada’s greatest Aboriginal artists. In their variety, these artworks remind us that the story of Canada—one of diverse peoples, striving to live together in peace and harmony—began with the Aboriginal experience.
As governor general and commander-in-chief of Canada, I often speak of diversity as one of our country’s greatest strengths. And the history of the War of 1812 offers us an example of that which remains true today: that despite our differences, Canada is our common ground, and we are stronger when we work together.
The War of 1812 was a complex and costly conflict that is difficult to summarize briefly. It was a tragedy because war, lest we forget, means we have failed to achieve our ends peacefully. Parts of what are now Canada and the United States were turned into battlefields, and the suffering caused was real.
But the war also left a number of important legacies, and it vividly demonstrated two facts that I would like to highlight today: our ability to co-operate and the vital contributions of First Nations and Métis peoples to this country.
The diverse Aboriginal warriors and British and French-speaking soldiers who fought alongside one another in the War of 1812 each had their own, unique reasons for uniting in battle. The point I wish to make is that not only was co-operation necessary, it was successful—thanks in no small part to the remarkable contributions of First Nations and Métis peoples.
From the outbreak of the war to its conclusion, Aboriginal people were essential to the defence of Canada.
Despite the two centuries that have passed since the War of 1812, I am struck by the continuities between then and now.
Of course, some things have changed significantly—and for the better. For one, we are now fortunate to live peacefully to the north of the world’s longest undefended border. But I do not think our present-day friendship with our American neighbours means that Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians need each other less today than we did two hundred years ago!
As with our past and our present, our future in this country will be shared.
And I do not think our chances of success any less than they were in 1812.
As governor general, I have been calling on Canadians to imagine ways to build a smarter, more caring society. One way we do this is by understanding and by honouring the essential contributions of first peoples to Canada.
That is why I am so pleased to participate in this national recognition ceremony today. As Commander-in-Chief and Head of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, it is an honour to present you and your communities with the War of 1812 commemorative banners and medals.
On behalf of Her Majesty The Queen and all Canadians, I offer my thanks to the First Nations and Métis peoples of this land for your assistance in our time of need.