Joseph Boyden, the award-winning author whose work vividly documents the complexity of Canada's indigenous history, is among the latest appointments to the Order of Canada in a year when aboriginal issues have dominated the national agenda.
Boyden, whose novels include Three Day Road and The Orenda, joined 68 other people recognized Wednesday by the Governor General with one of the country's highest civilian honours.
In its citation, Rideau Hall said Boyden was being recognized for his contributions to telling stories of "common heritage" and for his social engagement "notably in support of First Nations."
The novelist, who also served as an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission studying Canada's painful residential school legacy, said he believes the arts are a powerful tool to help repair fractured relationships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Canadians.
"I have come to realize that I think art is the way to allow Canadians to begin to understand — in a way that is manageable at first for them — to understand something of such huge pain," he said in an interview.
"We can lecture all we want about the ongoing intergenerational trauma but those words sometimes don't sink in.
"I think stories, I think novels, I think film, I think dance, I think painting, all of this allows Canadians to absorb not just the pain and the anger but the beauty as well."
Several other members of Canada's arts community were honoured Wednesday, including:
- Noreen Taylor, who founded one of Canada's major literary prizes.
- Sculptor Ivan Eyre.
- Quebec musician Diane Dufresne.
- Antoni Cimolino, the artistic director of the Stratford Festival.
Other recipients include former Prince Edward Island premier and senator Catherine Callbeck, former privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart and House of Commons clerk Audrey O'Brien.
Nominations for the Order of Canada are reviewed by an independent council chaired by the chief justice of Canada. Individuals are appointed on merit to recognize outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.
Rideau Hall has been actively working to ensure its honours reach more Canadians. Earlier this year, Gov. Gen. David Johnston flagged two areas of particular concern for the Order of Canada: gender and regional representation.
Spokesperson Emily Keogh said women comprise 46 per cent of the latest appointees. A previous list released in July had 44 per cent of female appointments — a bump from the average of 31 per cent between 2010 and 2014, she said, adding there is there is also "great diversity" among the recipients including filmmaker Atom Egoyan and author Rohinton Mistry.
The honour still hasn't sunk in for Boyden.
"It is something you hear about all your life as one of the great gifts given to Canadians of note," he said. "I guess I have to now consider myself a Canadian of at least some little note."