A Manitoba justice has won the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Award for 2013 for his work uniting First Nations communities and the Canadian government.

Sinclair accepted his award to a standing ovation on Tuesday, after University of Winnipeg president Lloyd Axworthy lauded the justice for offering a voice to those who are underrepresented or victimized in Canada.

Lloyd Axworthy and Murray Sinclair

The University of Winnipeg's Lloyd Axworthy and Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair speak before an awards ceremony in Winnipeg on Tuesday. (Nelly Gonzalez/CBC)

“It’s an incredible honour first of all because Gandhi is such a hero of mine,” Sinclair said. “I think he’s a hero to a lot of people.”

Sinclair attended the U of W in the 1970s and quickly moved into a career as an aboriginal rights lawyer. Less than 20 years later, he was appointed chief judge of the Provincial Court of Manitoba, becoming the province’s first aboriginal judge.

Sinclair is now the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is in the midst of a five-year investigation into the historical role of residential schools in Canada.

Sinclair’s work with the commission is what prompted the award, which recognizes people who aim to resolve conflicts through peaceful means.

Robert Daniels is a long-time friend of Sinclair’s and said he is a role model to many people in the aboriginal community.

“He’s involved in a whole number of areas, so he’s a real role model, you might say, to everybody,” said Daniels. “If they can go as high as he can and even higher, that would be a real blessing to our people.”

Sinclair said he was honoured to receive the award but added there is much more work that still needs to be done to heal tensions between residential school survivors and the Canadian government.

“I have said to many young people, ‘The truth will set you free, but first, it will also piss you off.’ We must acknowledge that,” said Sinclair.

The commission launched in 2008 and is expected to conclude this year, and Sinclair said he hopes it will continue to educate Canadians about the residential school system and how to heal and move forward from it.

 “It’s not an aboriginal problem. It’s a Canadian problem,” he said.

Sinclair called the work he did with the commission a form of “transitional justice” that is not yet over. “Part of the answer lies in the way that we educate children,” he said.