I happened to be driving while the ceremonial investiture of Julie Payette as Governor General of Canada was taking place late on Monday morning. The CBC Radio 1 commentators were talking in breathless tones about the spectacle, making it all sound like the Grey Cup or Rose Bowl Parade.
The ceremony featured music chosen by Payette herself, an address by the Prime Minister, wherein he, or a clever speechwriter, managed to work in that Ms. Payette is, and I paraphrase, one of the few people who have demonstrated that for them at least, ‘the sky is not the limit.’
Payette herself spoke not only in French and English, but in Algonquin as well, and made a point of saying that one of the goals she has identified for the country is ‘reconciliation’ with Canada’s indigenous population.
But before the spectacle even really got underway, two statements were made that demonstrate an inherent contradiction in the fact that we still have a ceremonial head of state who is the official representative of the British Monarch.
Claudette Commanda, Algonquin elder and representative of the venerable Commanda family, welcomed everyone to Algonquin Territory. This was a fitting reminder that Parliament Hill, along with Ottawa and a large swath of territory on both sides of river, is located on un-ceded Algonquin Territory.
Then, a document was read out by a senior official, I believe it was the Deputy Governor General, that demonstrated that Algonquin sovereignty over the land was wiped out hundreds of years ago. The document delineates in stark, strong language, that the Queen of England, identified repeatedly with the royal ‘we’ confers authority in the name of God to the Governor General to rule over Canada in her name or in the name of her heirs.
The statement demonstrated, if any was necessary, that Claudette Commanda was there as a token at best. The Algonquin peoples have no authority over the land, the Queen has all the authority. It is conveyed through the Governor General to the government of Canada and that is all there is to it.
We know, and this is the argument pro-Monarchists make, that the Governor General is in fact chosen by the Prime Minister and sent to England for a photo-op with the Queen before being invested. Ms. Payette plays a ceremonial role as head of state, nothing more.
As we, as a nation, come to terms with the past and work to bring about change on the ground on and off reserve, the monarchy, the symbol of the authority that perpetrated genocidal policies aimed at assimilation at all costs, needs to go.
My ancestors came to Canada over 100 years ago from Eastern Europe. They were treated like immigrants, shunted around and belittled, but also found opportunity and security. There have been waves of immigration before and since and some have faced more hurdles than others, both from the government and the community at large, but just about everyone who has immigrated to Canada has seen their prospects improve. This is a great strength of the country and it comes not from the crown but from a combination of vision and necessity.
We are a strong country, poised to take a new place in the world order as the superpower to the South descends into self reflection at best, and self destruction at worst. But we need to come to terms with what has been done in the past and the effort required to create a safe present and common future for those who have been trampled in the name of progress.
It would be a first step to extinguish our ties to the House of Windsor and create our own system for installing a ceremonial head of state. Julie Payette would likely be a good choice for First Canadian, but she should be beholding to us, not to the Queen of England.