Reconciliation through the Arts

By: The Hon. Patricia Bovey

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Maman statue and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, it’s a real treat to welcome my long-time visual arts colleague Pat Grattan. How many times over the decades, Pat, have we sat and had discussions together, here in Ottawa and across the country, about the arts and the ways they positively affect the world we live in?

Today, colleagues, I want to applaud Pacific Opera Victoria and Vancouver Opera for their joint co‑commissioned and co‑produced B.C. schools touring production The Flight of the Hummingbird. Addressing issues of climate change and reconciliation, this was a collaboration with local knowledge keepers and Indigenous communities. The Indigenous advisers were key to the project’s success.

The opera The Flight of the Hummingbird, as noted by the writer Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, is a call to action based on the book of the same name. A parable for the environment, it is a story of a great fire in the forest — a fire put out by the resilience and persistence of a little hummingbird, a bird symbolizing wisdom and courage. The story’s roots are with the Quechua people of South America and the Haida of Haida Gwaii.

Through the characters of the hummingbird, the bear, bunny, owl and crows, the story and music interweave the history of colonization, the impacts of trauma and the importance of caring for each other, of sharing perspectives and, thus, becoming stronger. The study guide states:

In this way, the story of the Hummingbird is not only a call to action, but an expression of the spiritual and emotional truth of their experience.

I learned last summer that this spring and next, the show will tour all of B.C., including many First Nations communities. To me, this is one of the key reconciliACTIONs, which, along with others, will inspire and add up to real reconciliation. It is number 6 of the 10 principles of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “All Canadians, as Treaty peoples, share responsibility for establishing and maintaining mutually respectful relationships.”

These two major Canadian opera companies have done that together through acts of consultation and participation by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

Rebecca Hass, an Anishinaabe Métis woman and Pacific Opera Victoria’s Director of Community Engagement, wrote, “We were there. We saw. We heard. We walked this piece forward in a good way. We witnessed.”

Congratulations! I know the experiences in the schools where this is presented will be memorable and significant.

Colleagues, the arts are part of awareness of climate change, heritage is affected by it, and artists and creators must be part of the ongoing solution. Thank you.

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