Governor General David Johnston says it’s “perfectly understandable” that indigenous protesters are raising concerns on Parliament Hill amid Canada Day preparations, and that Canada has always been a diverse, open nation willing to find common ground.
The Bawaating Water Protectors from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. arrived in Ottawa Wednesday and, after a brief showdown with police, erected a teepee on Parliament Hill.
The group calls their actions a “reoccupation” and has said they want to remind Canadians that indigenous people have faced systemic injustices, both in the past and present.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the group at the teepee on Friday and later tweeted that the government is “dedicated to moving forward on reconciliation.”
Speaking with CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme at Rideau Hall, Johnston said he hopes history is never far from the minds of Canadians.
“I think what hope all Canadians will be committed to is to learn from the past, both our triumphs and our tragedies,” he said.
The group has said it plans to remain on Parliament Hill for the Canada 150 celebrations Saturday.
Asked whether the considered the protests a setback, Johnston said Canada is a “very open place” and has “never been a country of extremes.”
“It's perfectly understandable that people present their concerns in their own way,” he said, adding that it’s important to come together and “find a way forward.”
On a personal level, Johnston said he’s thrilled to be celebrating the sesquicentennial surrounded by loved ones, including his 14 grandchildren.
“I’ve often said in the last 40 years or so, all the important things in life I’ve learned from my children. Now I’m relearning in yet a different way from my grandchildren,” he said.
The Saturday celebrations will be about commemorating Canada’s past. But Johnston said it’s the nation’s future that makes him feel optimistic.
“I think my heart will be throbbing with the notion of hope that this is a good country, not perfect. And we are an experiment. But for every step backward we take two steps forward. And we will continue to do that in a very steadfast way.”
With a report from CTV National News Chief Anchor and Senior Editor Lisa LaFlamme