Murray Sinclair received the Order of Canada Thursday for dedicating his life to championing Indigenous Peoples’ rights and freedoms.
Sinclair held his wife’s hand as the award was announced in Rideau Hall, and was met with a standing ovation as he rose to receive it.
Gov. Gen. Mary Simon presented Sinclair with the award at the ceremony, which was held several months after it was announced he would receive the honour.
By accepting the award, Sinclair wanted to show the country that working on Indigenous issues calls for national attention and participation, he said in an interview.
Sinclair, 71, said at his age he has begun to reflect on his life, and he realizes that he’s had both the joy and sadness that comes with participating in this work.
Receiving the award recognizes the importance of that work, and can act as inspiration for younger people, Sinclair said.
“When I speak to young people, I always tell them that we all have a responsibility to do the best that we can and to be the best that we can be,” he said.
Sinclair led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the experiences of Indigenous children sent to residential schools.
Sinclair said it was a particular honour to receive the award from Simon, the first Indigenous Governor General, as she is a good friend and was an honorary witness to the commission.
“As an Indigenous person, we had a unique relationship. And I think we brought it to what happened here today,” he said.
The former senator is a highly respected voice on matters of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
The Order of Canada is one of the country’s highest distinctions, for those who have made exceptional contributions to Canadian society.
Sinclair also received the Meritorious Service Cross for his role in overseeing the Truth and Reconciliation commission and producing the final report.