On Thursday, two well-known First Nation personalities were receiving Order of Canada honours at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
Tom Jackson, from One Arrow First Nation in Saskatchewan, is an awarded winning actor, musician and activist.
His work includes the television show North of 60 and the long-running charitable concert series The Huron Carole.
Jackson has also served as an ambassador for the Canadian Red Cross and had this to say about being selected as a companion of the order.
“It does give some belief that what you do is valid,” he said. “Most of the work that I’ve been acknowledged for in some way has been connected to saving lives and on the other hand has to do with art.”
Ovide Mercredi, who is Cree from Manitoba, was the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations from 1991 to 1997 – a position that often saw him in constitutional discussions and battles with the Canadian government.
He is now an officer of the Order of Canada and said it provides a platform to talk about the challenges that still exist.
“To still use that opportunity to speak about the divide that’s there and why it’s important for the next generation to pick up that battle to improve the human condition for our people,” he said. “That includes continuing to advocate for our rights and freedoms, for our self determination.”
Jackson said it is an exciting time for Indigenous artists with a number of them making their mark.
“There are great leaders everywhere. People like Graham Greene is an example, Michelle Thrush is an example, Tantoo Cardinal is an example. That have also given a value to what they do beyond the art.”
For his part, Mercredi said there are a number of ways young Indigenous activists can change the world – they just have to choose where they want to do it.
“Is the country where you want to make the change? In other words, the Province of Manitoba or any province in the country. Or do you want to make the change in your community? With your own people, with your own nation,” he said.
“So, you make a choice first and then you stay in that camp as best you can. You get all the skills you can get. Whatever they may be. Acquire all the knowledge you need and be fully ambitious for courage. And then just go to work.”
In all, 48 people received Order of Canada designations.
Governor General Mary Simon was ill and did attend the ceremony.
In her place, former governor general Michaelle Jean filled in and performed official duties.