Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Gord Downie receives the Order of Canada from Governor General David Johnston in Ottawa on Monday. Downie, who announced last year that he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, has become a strong advocate for indigenous people and issues.

Gov. Gen. Johnston apologizes for referring to Indigenous Peoples as immigrants

OTTAWA — Gov. Gen. David Johnston apologized publicly Monday for referring to Indigenous Peoples as immigrants as he bestowed honours on 29 people — including the frontman of the Tragically Hip — for their efforts in furthering indigenous causes.

Johnston told the investiture ceremony he misspoke when he said during a CBC Radio interview aired Saturday that the roots of Canadian immigration extend all the way back to include Indigenous People.

The comments, aired on CBC’s politics program “The House,” touched off a flurry of criticism on social media, where some listeners complained that Johnston’s remarks reflected a deep-seated colonial mentality.

“Let me apologize for not expressing myself correctly on this matter recently,” Johnston told Monday’s gathering, which followed an apologetic tweet of his own earlier in the day.

“Indigenous Peoples are the original peoples of this land.”

The Governor General prefaced his apology by saying all of Canada’s inhabitants should be encouraged to create a better Canada.

“The better country we desire is, above all, a more inclusive one that supports, encourages and acknowledges the contributions of all peoples, including indigenous peoples.”

Johnston was presiding over a ceremony in which Gord Downie and 28 others were honoured for their work in raising awareness of indigenous issues.

Downie, wearing his trademark feathered hat and weathered denim jacket, stumbled slightly and then embraced Johnston before being inducted as a member of the Order of Canada at the Rideau Hall ceremony.

The singer and social activist, diagnosed last year with an incurable form of brain cancer, was being recognized for his efforts to bring attention to the history of residential schools and to advance the cause of reconciliation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among the dignitaries in attendance and applauded as indigenous activist Sylvia Maracle was named an officer of the order.

Jacqueline Guest, a staunch literacy advocate with Metis roots, was inducted as a member of the order while others received honours including the Meritorious Service Decoration, the Polar Medal and the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

They included Inuit NHL player Jordin Tootoo, Jarret Leaman, an advocate for indigenous LGBT youth and actress and former Liberal MP Tina Keeper.

Downie’s band mates — Rob Baker, Johnny Fay, Paul Langlois and Gord Sinclair — have also been named to the Order of Canada and are to receive their citations at a later date.

Prior to Monday’s ceremony, Johnston issued a statement on Twitter, referring to his weekend comments as a “miscommunication.”

But the message appeared to further irritate some who suggested it invoked a sense of ownership over people when Johnston said “Our Indigenous Peoples are not immigrants. They are the original peoples of this land.”

“We are not your chattels like the drapes at Rideau Hall,” wrote one respondent.

Still another stated “We do NOT belong to you!”

In closing the Rideau Hall ceremony, actor and past Order of Canada recipient Tom Jackson issued an impassioned plea to those in attendance to help create “a better Canada,” saying Canadians are one big family, no matter their origin or colour.

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