Lieutenant-governor ceremony gathers threads of history, legacy
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2022 (222 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a nice ceremony, for those who saw it: the bugle call, the polite applause, the operatic solo sung from the Manitoba legislative chamber’s gallery.
Canada inherited its affinities for pomp and circumstance from the British, though not, perhaps, either their skill in the delivery or the collective investment in its importance. But maybe that’s for the best.
So on Monday, when former Liberal MP Anita Neville was installed as the province’s 26th lieutenant-governor in that nice ceremony, most Manitobans didn’t see it. Around 120 people watched it live on the province’s YouTube channel; for most of the province’s 1.4 million residents, life went on as normal, with the majority comfortably unaware it was happening at all.
Yet in that ceremony, threads of history tied together with the present.
Neville is the first Canadian lieutenant-governor in at least 70 years to swear their oath in service of a king instead of a queen; and it hasn’t even been seven weeks since Queen Elizabeth’s death, so that part still doesn’t roll off the tongue easily yet, which the new vice-regal herself acknowledged.
“As we get used to saying the phrase ‘His Majesty the King,’ we are reminded that to live is to be in flux,” Neville said in her speech. “At the same time as we look to the future, we are reminded of the continuity of Canada’s connection to a tradition of governance and the rights of the people that has and will continue to evolve.”
In the ceremony, we saw that evolution. It existed in the tangle of history inherent in hearing a treaty land acknowledgement made before a ceremony that is, by its nature, colonial. It existed in the contrast of the tender drum song gifted in blessing by elder Myra Laramee, of Fisher River Cree Nation, and the stiff constitutional language of the readings that followed.
That is Canada in a nutshell, alive most of all in the constant negotiation between how it was founded, and what it’s still in the process of becoming. That last bit is from where the hope comes. Because if Canada is anything, it is a nexus of many journeys and many stories coming together. What is being forged from that process is still young.
It’s notable, for instance, Neville is Manitoba’s first Jewish lieutenant-governor; as a young girl growing up in Winnipeg in the 1940s and 50s, she said in her speech, she could not have foreseen one day sitting in the vice-regal’s chair, heir to the long journey of her grandparents, who fled antisemitic violence in Eastern Europe over a century ago.
“This legacy is not lost on me,” she said.
So she spoke about other survivors that have come together in this place. About Indigenous people forced from their homes and denied their own language and culture on their own lands; about the hope of modern-day refugees who come from Ukraine or Syria or Afghanistan. Again, that contrast between Manitoba’s foundations, and its newer construction.
And while Neville spoke about the legacy of Queen Elizabeth — a legacy she described as “a personification of nation and of governance that was unchanging” — she turned, too, to the things that must change: “Continuity will depend on our collective efforts at reconciliation, at breathing new life and new meaning into what is fast becoming a familiar word.”
That’s a fine needle to thread. Because on the same day and just a short drive away, there was another ceremony: the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation held a gathering at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, bringing experts together to take a deep look at the ongoing barriers to fully documenting Canada’s residential school history.
On Twitter, Globe and Mail columnist Tanya Talaga, who was present for the gathering, noted how one of the key issues at the gathering was access to records or lack thereof. Even now, even after a federal commission and years of painful public reckoning, provincial governments and other institutions still have yet to release all related documents.
In this province, where the NCTR is headquartered at the University of Manitoba, privacy laws tie red tape around the NCTR’s records. That introduces another barrier for Indigenous communities seeking to claim documents about their own relatives, their own truths, their own pasts.
There, in the gap between Monday events bookending Winnipeg’s downtown, loomed the gap that still stands between the province’s tradition and its present. Between words of reconciliation and action.
In her speech, Neville called the moment part of a “continuum of governance,” and also acknowledged how difficult the work to evolve it has been and will be.
Or, in other words: instead of “continuum,” we could just as well call it a work in progress.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Monday, October 24, 2022 8:42 PM CDT: Fixes style of lieutenant-governor, fixes typo