June 19, 2017 1:08 pm
Updated: June 19, 2017 3:56 pm

Governor General says he misspoke when he said indigenous people are immigrants, apologizes

Governor General David Johnston says he misspoke over the weekend when, in a radio interview, he described Canada’s indigenous people as immigrants to Canada.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Governor General David Johnston says he misspoke over the weekend when, in a radio interview, he described Canada’s indigenous people as immigrants to Canada.

“I want to clarify a miscommunication. Our indigenous peoples are not immigrants. They are the original peoples of this land,” he wrote on Twitter Monday morning.

On Saturday, CBC aired an interview with the Governor General during which he was asked to define his thoughts on the kind of country Canada is.

He drew on a number of flattering adjectives, describing Canada as “smart and caring,” a country of people who “look beyond the individual to the collectivity” and believe life should be better for every generation.

He then said Canada is a country based on immigration “going right back to our quote indigenous people unquote who were immigrants as well, going back 10, 12, 14,000 years ago.”

The statement garnered considerable backlash online with some people saying Johnston failed to distinguish between immigration and migration, or immigration and settling.

The Governor General sent his “clarification” tweet Monday morning, shortly before he began presenting honours to 30 indigenous people in recognition of their leadership.

As some pointed out, though, while Johnston framed what he said over the weekend as a “miscommunication” in need of clarification, it seemed more like a retraction.

Story continues below

In a speech during Monday’s ceremony, Johnston apologized for what he said during the radio interview.

“The better country we desire is above all more inclusive: one that supports, respects, encourages and acknowledges the contributions of all peoples, including Indigenous peoples, the original peoples of this land,” he said as he addressed a crowd at Rideau Hall.

“And let me apologize for not expressing myself correctly on this matter recently: Indigenous peoples are the original peoples of this land.”

In an emailed statement to Global News, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples said he appreciated the Governor General’s apology.

“It’s comments like those that undermine progress towards reconciliation,” he wrote. “There is mounting evidence that people inhabited this land as long as 130,000 years ago.”


Following the ceremony, a former MP and current commissioner with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission said he thought of his native language when presented with the idea of Canada’s indigenous people being labeled immigrants.

Chief Wilton Littlechild said there are two words indigenous peoples use to describe themselves.

One means “people of the land,” and the other references how they arrived to what’s now called Canada.

“In other words, we’re indigenous to this territory,” Littlechild said, noting he hadn’t heard the initial broadcast over the weekend.

“We were blessed by a creator to be here. So I would think about something like that in terms of a retrospective look at it, not in terms of centuries but perhaps eons.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Report an error


Want to discuss? Please read our Commenting Policy first.