Presentation of the Governor General’s History Awards at the Citadelle

November 22, 2022

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I would like to first acknowledge that we gather on the territory of many Indigenous peoples who have lived on and cared for these lands for thousands of years.

Welcome everyone to the Citadelle to celebrate the recipients of the 2021 and 2022 Governor General’s History Awards.

Thomas King, the recipient of the 2022 Pierre Berton Award, once wrote: “For me at least, writing a novel is buttering warm toast, while writing a history is herding porcupines with your elbows.”

I share this quote because it shows how difficult it is to research and write about history, and the hard questions we need to ask in order to teach and share it.

How do we tell Canada’s story? 

Our country is diverse, but for the longest time our history didn’t reflect the richness of that diversity. There are holes in our knowledge. We gloss over and deny events or policies or truths that are hard to face.

The treatment of Indigenous peoples is an example of this. Canadians in positions of power or authority said little for a very long time, and what was said often misrepresented Indigenous peoples or presented them and their reality in racist terms. This was racism presented as fact—as history—something to teach children.

Indigenous peoples lived this reality. They still do.

Changing that world view was a long time coming. And even with progress, there is still so much farther to go. But progress is happening.

It’s part of the reconciliation journey that looks to renew our relationship with each other and with our land. It’s a responsibility that is not one project, but an ongoing process that involves everyone—Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike.

We saw progress in action with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The TRC spoke with survivors, recorded their experiences and studied the laws, historical context and prejudicial policies that led to residential schools. It has helped us overcome silence and distrust, with the goal of institutional reform and a wider account of our past.

But even with this report—finished in 2015—most Canadians were still surprised and shocked when unmarked graves of children were found at residential school sites in 2021. This, despite that this information was already known, contained in Volume 4 of the TRC final report, titled Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials.

It took a groundswell of support from Canadians like you, who recognized that we weren’t getting the full story, even after it had been told.

Today, with the Governor General’s History Awards, we’re recognizing the importance of sharing a more accurate and comprehensive account of history, now that we know.

It starts with teachers, historians, researchers, educators and institutions—like all of you—who have built platforms for inclusivity.

You are at the forefront of change.

You saw a gap in the content of our current curriculum and you created something wonderful.

I want to thank you for leading with reconciliation, and for highlighting important issues in our world today—addressing head on inequality, diversity and inclusion. And for recognizing that hate exists in this world … that it can be dispelled with respect and understanding and listening to every voice.

Some have bemoaned what they call a “rewriting” of history, or questioning historical figures from our country’s past. But that’s not what’s happening. History, after all, is always being revised as new information comes to public light. We are telling a fuller history, fleshing out our stories from all the peoples of this land.

We tell ourselves stories, pass them down generation to generation.

Stories about our past, our present, our future.

Stories about our people, our families, our community.

Stories told in many different languages, some of which have been spoken on this land for longer than we can record.

[In Inuktitut]

Stories told in many different languages, some of which have been spoken on this land for longer than we can record.

Collectively, these stories—the good and the bad—create Canada’s history.

The History Awards honour those who tell our stories—all our stories—and who are having the hard, but necessary conversations, particularly with young people.

To today’s recipients, you are giving platforms for children to learn about Indigenous communities, about the TRC commission and the calls to action; about Jewish people, Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust; about our veterans and their sacrifice; about the immigrant experience. About all of this, but so much more.

You have produced reports, books, art exhibits and podcasts, among other things. You have made an impact, and shown others the impact they can have by taking action.

Congratulations to all of you on making history.

But, this is just the beginning for you. I encourage you to share your success widely. Be the inspiration for others to spark our curiosity and engagement with our history. Make sure every Canadian on this journey has the chance to learn the truths of our history.

Murray Sinclair, the 2021 Pierre Berton Award recipient, once said that education is the cornerstone of reconciliation.

Only through education can we build a truly national narrative for Canada—one that is inclusive, for all, by all.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with many of you about this very point—about the need for an overarching vision. A way to approach the big picture—bringing together diverse histories to tell a truly national narrative. An inclusive guide that we can all follow, regardless of jurisdiction, to help us teach our children…so we can all live in a better future.

Thank you.