Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean Speech on the Occasion of a Community Gathering
Inuvik, Sunday, April 13, 2008
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As soon as you set foot in Inuvik, what is perhaps most remarkable is its astonishing diversity.
We are standing two degrees above the Arctic Circle, where the boreal forest meets the tundra, on Canada’s largest freshwater delta and at the end of a highway.We are at the edge of the world.
Here, Aboriginal cultures and languages have existed since as far back as human memory can recall and today comprise the majority.
Your history is the history of a people who have not lived off of agriculture, as in the South, but off of hunting and fishing.
You know every inch of these infinite lands and icy waters, having crossed and re-crossed them on the trail of caribou herds and whales.
You have always maintained a deep connection with the land, the sea, the flora and the fauna of this great expanse, for it is a connection upon which your very survival depends.
It is a connection that nourishes your spirituality and the ways in which you express yourselves.
Your dances, music and songs, carried on the rhythm of drums, move to the driving pulse of the earth itself, to the sounds of the howling wind and the pounding of water against rock and glacier.
You are the keepers of another way of thinking, of doing, of speaking, of creating, of living.
You are the guardians of a rare, precious and unique heritage.
A heritage that enriches all of humanity.
A heritage that is increasingly in danger of disappearing.
A heritage that now more than ever must be preserved, passed down, celebrated.
In a very short period of time, you have changed from a nomadic to a sedentary way of life.
Fifty years ago, when your town was first built, you found yourselves suddenly thrust into a new way of life, upsetting in some ways, but full of possibilities.
You had to find a way to reinvent yourselves and regain control over your lives and the tools of your own development, without losing the essence of who you are, your stories, your languages, your cultures. This was no small task.
Everywhere I look, I can see that you rose to the challenge: from your information centre to your magnificent Igloo Church, which I had the pleasure of visiting this morning; from your wellness camp just outside of town to this recreation complex celebrating the midnight sun.
Seeming to have sprung from nowhere, this town is where two worlds collide: one ancestral and the other, modern.
You have a unique way of blending tradition with modernity.
Yours is a community that is both proud of its heritage and looking to the future, and it is this approach that will enrich all aspects of your lives.
This openness to new possibilities is encouraging, full of promise, as luminous as your aurora borealis.
One thing is clear: the North is at a turning point in its history and development, and Inuvik has a vital role to play.
This week alone, you are hosting a conference on the environment and climate change, a meeting of leaders from the Beaufort-Delta Region, and a summit on education that I am proud to be attending.
Truly, your town is a vital link in the circumpolar chain; a linchpin of this area.
Many of the issues you are facing are not unlike those facing any number of northern communities.
Many of these issues are in fact global issues.
The sovereignty of our Arctic lands.
The development of our natural resources.
The effects of global warming on our ecosystems.
The opportunities opened before you when new knowledge is combined with traditional wisdom.
You hold the key to resolving these issues.
One of the challenges will be to awaken in our children and youth a desire to take charge of their destinies and to assure them that they will succeed.
I always try to encourage young people to dream.
To rouse in them a desire to realize their full potential.
To dream big is to believe that a new generation of health professionals, mechanics, carpenters, teachers, engineers, pilots will soon be emerging here, in the North.
It is to believe that this generation will have the means to help build stronger, happier, more self-sufficient communities.
If there is one woman who embodies that ability we all have to live out our dreams, it is Nellie Cournoyea, to whom it will be my great honour to pay tribute.
Nellie, your Nellie, our Nellie, will be receiving the Northern Medal for her commitment and dedication to the Far North.
I am especially moved to be awarding her this medal here, in the town she calls home.
I also hope that this visit will help me to truly understand your realities.
I want to meet with you in your communities.
It is in this spirit that I decided to visit Tuktoyaktuk, or Tuk, as it is more commonly known, the gateway to Pingo Canadian Landmark, where the caribou still roam.
Throughout my visit, we will have opportunities to talk and to share.
With you, the younger generation.
With you, the elders.
With you, the community representatives.
With those of you who work for support organizations.
With those of you who are the very lifeblood of this community.
Let’s take the time to get to know one another.
My eyes are wide open, my curiosity piqued. I can’t wait to understand everything I see.
I want you to tell me about yourselves, about your concerns, your achievements, your dreams.
If only you knew how privileged I feel to be here with you today. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
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