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Statement re: Governor General’s Innovation Awards 2016

April 28, 2016

I want to sincerely thank the Canada Council for the Arts for the nomination and the Hon. David Johnston, Governor General of Canada and the selection committee for this award and for recognizing, more broadly, that artists can be innovators. I have seen how the arts and artists are creating positive change within their communities. I look forward to seeing this recognition given to many more artists to come in the future.

I want to also acknowledge and pay tribute to the other Innovators who are doing such amazing work to help people. It’s an incredible honour to be named among them. For those who know me, they know how reluctant I am to accept awards. Because, while we rightly celebrate the achievements and compassionate work of my fellow recipients, for me, I do not feel my work is separate from the work of the hundreds and thousands of Indigenous Peoples and Nations who are doing work that brings health, healing or light to their communities and yet  go unheralded.

These awards are coming at a time when Canada is gearing up to celebrate its 150-year anniversary. Unfortunately, it is an anniversary that will not hold the same celebratory feeling for many Indigenous Peoples as it does for Canadians.

As I’m sure we are all aware, all across this country Indigenous Youth have been engaged in protests and sit-ins within INAC and MP offices, in a desperate attempt to bring attention to the crisis of suicides within Indigenous communities. This is on top of the states of perpetual crisis and grieving we are facing across our nations with missing and murdered indigenous women, men and two-spirit/transgender people, and children unjustly taken into child welfare agency care.

Young people and others have repeatedly linked the 150 years of dispossession, residential schools, on-going colonialism and assimilation policies of successive Canadian governments to many of these crises. Youth have also made it very clear what they believe the solutions are. They want access to land-based education, their languages, they want to inherit a clean environment from us, and they want their cultures restored and access to their traditional forms of spirituality. Interestingly, these are some of the very same solutions proposed through the 94 recommendations of the TRC.

While I am truly humbled and honoured to be named a recipient of the Governor General’s Innovation Awards, as an Indigenous person, mother and artist, I feel that there is so much more important work to be done. I stand today willing to help in anyway I can to create the change the youth are asking for and I urge all Canadians to join me in supporting the youth who are calling for foundational change and the good work Indigenous Peoples are doing already to improve the lives of our Peoples.

With respect,

Christi Belcourt