Sunday, October 28, 2012
PM delivers remarks at a ceremony at Rideau Hall 25 October 2012 Ottawa, Ontario Your Excellency Governor General Johnston, Sharon Johnston, first of all, thank you for bringing us all together today. Minister Duncan, General Natynczyk, National Chief Chartier, chiefs and elders, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. Canadians rightly proud themselves upon our country’s peaceful character. Yet, as with so many other nations, Canada’s existence as a separate country was not peacefully conceded. Had Canadians, Aboriginal, French, English and others not repelled an American invasion during the three-year struggle that we remember today as the War of 1812, our country could not have come into being. Recently our Government announced our intention to award battle honours to the regiments of the Canadian army, which linked their roots to the militia units that helped defend Canada during that time. Today we gather in historic Rideau Hall to commemorate the First Nations and Métis warriors who fought so gallantly alongside the English and French Canadian militias as well as British regiments. They did so from the very beginning, and they fought to the very end. In doing so, your ancestors made a great and critical contribution to Canada, one without which events might well have ended very differently. Let me describe briefly how important and how valuable that contribution was. At Detroit just days after the outbreak of hostilities, the mere threat of deploying aboriginal warriors, Ojibwa, Odawa, Pottawatomi and Shawnee under the great leader Tecumseh, allowed General Isaac Brock to negotiate the surrender of the American fort. And although Brock was killed in action at Queenston Heights 200 years ago this month, Haudenosaunee Iroquois warriors played a vital part in the defeat of the invaders in that battle as well. Almost exactly a year later, the warriors again of the Ojibwa, Odawa, Pottawatomi and Shawnee again fought at the battle of the Thames. There the First Nations suffered a great loss when Tecumseh himself fell fighting a larger American force to the bitter end. But in spite of the defeat, the First Nations kept up their vital contribution to the defence of Canada. At the Battle of Châteauguay, whose 199th anniversary is tomorrow, there was a force made up of members of the French-Canadian militia under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel de Salaberry and their First Nations allies. These combatants, who counted Algonquin, Mohawk, Huron and Abenaki warriors among their number, defeated a much larger American force. This victory permanently dashed the Americans’ hopes of attaining a key strategic objective: the taking of Montreal and the fortress of Quebec City. And so it went on for three long years. Métis warriors served against the American invaders in the corps of Canadian Voyageurs and in the Commissariat of Voyageurs throughout the conflict. First Nations people under talented and courageous leaders, among whom Oshawana, John Norton and John Brant won lasting glory, were at every major battle throughout the war. Michilimackinac – I had to work on that one – Michilimackinac, where Dakota and Ojibwa warriors assisted British forces in taking an American fort. Fort George, Stoney Creek, Beaver Dams, Chrysler’s Farm, Lundy’s Lane, to name just some of the most well remembered. Thus Canada’s Aboriginal peoples were in every sense key to the victory that firmly established Canada as a distinct country in North America. Now, of course, much has changed in 200 years. The war, contrary to a lot of expectations of the time, ushered in a long peace between Canada and the United States. The Americans are now our great friends and allies. Canada is a peaceful and prosperous federation stretching from coast to coast to coast. Yet one of the constants over the decades has been the loyal service of Canada of its Aboriginal peoples during times of great need. From the Boer War through both the First and Second World Wars, Korea and Afghanistan, the courage and fighting spirit of Canada’s aboriginal peoples have been important national assets, as indeed today the presence of many of you who I see are indeed veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces tells us. Our modest remembrances here today are then their natural due. Now, ladies and gentlemen, at the conclusion of the war of 1812 and in recognition of their valour, aboriginal communities were presented with military banners and King George III medals. So it will be today. Successor First Nations and Métis communities will shortly be presented with a Canadian Forces War of 1812 commemorative banner and the specially struck War of 1812 commemorative medals. Both banner and medal reflect the strong connection of Canada’s First Nations to the crown. They contain the image of Queen Elizabeth II and were approved by Her Majesty. They are bestowed today as symbols of an unbreakable bond forged in a common struggle. The war we commemorate today and the part in it played by aboriginal Canadians did more than preserve a boundary. It also established a national consciousness that defines us to this day. Men and women, English and French, Aboriginal and other, people of very different horizons from very different cultures, uniting in battle to stem an invasion, established our Canadian national identity. 200 years ago later we are still a nation of diversity, people from many backgrounds striving together to define a unique and special country. That is how we began. It is how we shall move forward. Today we remember and we honour the vital and priceless role that our aboriginal peoples played along the border two centuries ago for the lasting benefit of all of us. As Prime Minister and on behalf of all Canadians, I would like to once again express to their descendants our recognition, our appreciation and our esteem. Merci beaucoup.