Indigenous Affairs

Why I Decided to Accept the Order of Canada

For Canadians, it’s the highest possible honour. For me? I needed to think about it.

By Judith Sayers 7 Feb 2019 | TheTyee.ca

Judith Sayers (Kekinusuqs) is from the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni, B.C. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria in Business and Environmental Studies.

In December I received an email from the Order of Canada requesting that I call them. When I called, I was informed that I was being invited to be part of the Order of Canada. Would I accept? I asked for a few days to think about it.

I asked myself: “Do I want to be part of the Order of Canada?” Most of my life I’ve considered myself from the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation. Part of my mandate as a treaty negotiator a decade ago was to negotiate the terms of dual citizenship, meaning Nuu-chah-nulth and Canadian. The treaty was seen as a tool to become part of Canada. Since we never finished a treaty, dual citizenship is not an option yet. I knew how much Canadians value the Order of Canada, so that was in my mind as well.

I thought back to the advice of my elders when I asked them if I should accept an honourary doctor of laws from Queens University in 1993. For me, the highest honour in our culture was to be a respected elder, not a doctor. They told me that we were engaged in a battle with the governments of Canada over our lands, resources and rights. We needed to be equipped with all the tools we could get in order to find success in that battle. Having “doctor” in front of my name was something that would add to the weight of my reputation. After thinking about what they said, I accepted the honourary doctorate.

Based on that same advice, I chose to accept the Order of Canada as another tool to equip myself with as I go forward on many fronts as a leader of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation.

On Dec. 29, 2017 I became a member. I kept waiting for an invitation to go through the investiture ceremony at Rideau Hall with the Governor General, and finally got one for Feb. 1 this year.

I was very interested in meeting Gov.-Gen. Julie Payette. Based on her reputation as an astronaut and a strong woman, I felt she would be someone worth knowing. I had spent 10 years working with the Treaty Nations in Alberta as legal counsel, and my children are Treaty 6 through their father. Their treaties were entered into with the Queen of England, and the Governor General represents her. Treaty Nations have always asked the Governor General to uphold their treaties, and I thought there might be an opportunity to speak to her about that.

When I got on the plane to fly to Ottawa I was excited to go, not knowing what to expect in an investiture ceremony. My two adult children came with me, making this an even more special occasion.

When the time came to walk into the room where the ceremony was to be held, I was one of 32 people receiving the honour. What I hadn’t anticipated were the overwhelming emotions that washed over me as we got to the door, and everyone was standing and clapping and clapping. I was near the end of the line as things proceeded alphabetically, and I had lots of time to hear the enthusiasm of all who were present.

It was a moment of deep pride, a moment of wonder: how did I get here? As I walked into the room, I looked at all the people and searched for the only two that really mattered. My children smiled and waved, and I was glad they could be there to witness their mother being recognized for work she loved and had worked hard at to make a difference. I also thought of the ancestors and felt their presence and pride in me.

I don’t know who nominated me for the Order of Canada, but to that person, I thank you. I was nominated based on my work in clean energy, for my advocacy, for building a project, and for working hard with Indigenous people to find the opportunity to create projects that fall within the values of First Nations. I’ve been working in clean energy since 2002. When I started, I knew nothing about it. Today I have an expertise in the industry, and even created a toolkit for First Nations.

I’ve worked in this field because I believe it’s one of the solutions to climate change. Creating clean energy doesn’t mean destruction and degradation of the environment and creating huge amounts of greenhouse gases. It means leaving a slight footprint with minimal negative impacts. It provides community pride and diversification of the economy, as well as revenue, jobs and capacity building.

Being awarded the Order of Canada for this work that I have a passion for, fought for, and been part of, a worthwhile industry where I am respected, means so much. Clean energy must be at the forefront in the fight against global warming, and if being part of the Order of Canada helps elevate clean energy, then I think it’s important to participate.

There were three Indigenous people in this investiture ceremony. To me that’s another good thing about being part of the Order of Canada: that First Nation and Inuit peoples are recognized for their achievements. We are no longer invisible as we have been in the past. We can continue to rise as a people and be empowered by such recognition as being part of the Order of Canada.

I listened to each of the 31 other people’s accomplishments that earned them an Order of Canada and was astounded at the quality of people and the major accomplishments they had achieved. It was humbling to be among them.

While I did hesitate about accepting the Order of Canada at the beginning, I have realized that one of the roles of the Governor General is to strengthen Canada’s ties with other nations. Through this, she has strengthened Canada’s ties with the Nuu-chah-nulth, and for that I am honoured.  [Tyee]

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