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Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean
Speech on the Occasion of the National Inuit Education Summit
Inuvik, Tuesday, April 15, 2008
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From near and far, we have answered the call to come together to discuss a national strategy on Inuit education. With that in mind, I would like to get right to the heart of the matter.My personal story has taught me that education is the key to freedom.
The freedom to choose one’s destiny.
The freedom to define what we are and to share it with the world.
The freedom to pool our collective strengths and to develop our resources.
As educators, you shoulder a responsibility that is vital to the success of your communities.
Not only have you made it your mission to nourish hearts and minds by imparting knowledge.
By ensuring that your traditions, your way of life, the way you see the world will persist.
But you have also taken on the enormous task of preparing Inuit youth to take charge of the future of your communities.
I would like to thank you sincerely for including me in what I believe is a critical process, the outcomes of which will certainly affect youth, but will also have a lasting impact on all peoples of the Far North.
This is second time that I have travelled here, to the Northwest Territories, and the fourth time that I have crossed the 60th parallel since my installation as governor general.
Whenever I visit your communities, I leave with the absolute certainty that the heritage of all of humanity continues to be enriched by the history of the women and men who call these unending vistas of snow, rock, land and water home.
I cannot begin to describe the admiration I have for the deep roots you have put down in this land that has inspired myth and legend.
For the richness of your languages and your cultures.
For your extraordinary resilience.
The ingenuity that has sustained you for millennia is legendary.
Your history is a unique example of endurance.
Your history speaks of a wisdom 4000 years old.
You know the secrets of this land of extremes, a land that tests human resolve.
You discovered the bounty of this land and uncovered every treasure.
It was you who shared with us its spirit, its very essence.
It was you who taught us, the settlers, from the first explorers to the latest newcomers, to take root on this continent.
You are our strongest link to this generous land.
Our oldest roots.
Your efforts to maintain your identity are a lesson for all of humanity.
We have much to learn from you.
From the respect you give to the land, the sea, the flora and fauna that nourish your spirituality and the ways in which you express yourselves.
I know the full measure of determination and courage it takes for you to preserve your traditions, in the wake of the upheaval of your entry into another era.
In a very short period of time, you have been forced to change from a nomadic to a sedentary way of life.
From that moment on, you have had to redefine your sense of belonging.
Youth in your communities are faced with this same challenge, caught between a way of life that their elders grieve to see fading away and opportunities for the future that seem beyond their reach.
Between the draw of the South and the realities of the North, they struggle to find a place for themselves.
Our hearts weep whenever young people float adrift, only to be pulled under into despair, alcohol and drugs, seeing no way out but to take their own lives.
But there is hope still, and I see it in your great numbers here today, gathered to discuss a national education strategy.
Your willingness to address this issue speaks volumes of the path you have taken and your desire to see these youth succeed.
Together, we must change the startling statistics that suggest that less than one third of northern youth finish high school, even though they make up more than half the population.
At this point in your history, it is more important—more urgent—than ever to prepare Inuit youth to take the lead in developing your resources, in all aspects of society.
To awaken in youth a desire to learn is to give your communities the tools they need to grow and prosper.
After all, a national education strategy will also empower you to manage the wealth of resources abundant in these lands.
Your prosperity, the future of your communities, depends on this. And I want nothing more than to see your communities thrive.
Don’t be afraid to think big.
To encourage your children to reach for the stars.
Teaching them to dream of new possibilities will prepare them to become leaders in your communities.
Your desire to help shape a new generation so that it is ready to face the challenges of today and tomorrow is an inspiration.
There is no limit to what we may dream, and there should be no limit to the opportunities offered to your youth.
They must know that they are free to dream and that they have the right to pursue those dreams.
Whether they dream of becoming a mechanic, health professional, engineer, surveyor, pilot, carpenter, merchant, architect, public servant, filmmaker, or even an educator—and why not a governor general—they must be free and ready to choose.
And none of these dreams are in any way diminished by the fact that they also happen to be hunters and fishers.
We want as many of them as possible to be exposed to a world of learning, without losing who they are, deep down inside.
We want them to be ready, sure of themselves, confident, so that they are not afraid to discover new realities, even if it means heading south to study for a while.
Culture shock can actually be a good thing. My own life is proof of this. Inuit youth need to know this.
We want them to be able to decide for themselves how they will contribute to the well-being of their community, their country and the world.
We must instil in them a sense of pride, so that they can hold their heads high and proclaim that they belong to a unique people.
So that they can choose from a thousand and one possibilities what they want to become.
Perhaps this is what education and learning are really all about.
That sense of pride that allows us—every single one of us—to project ourselves out into the world with hope and happiness.
The road ahead will not be easy.
It will mean ensuring that all Inuit youth understand that the pride of their people is in their hands.
It will mean ensuring that the elders understand that they, too, have much to learn from these youth.
We need that spirit of reciprocity if we are to grow together.
When these young people pursue their dreams, whatever they may be, our entire country is filled with pride.
All Canadians understand that every time a youth fails, we all fail.
Rest assured that I will remind the young people that I plan to meet in the course of the next few days that school is cool!
For millennia, you have taught your children how to make the most of the resources of this land.
You have passed down such valuable knowledge.
A knowledge gleaned from the stars, from the movement clouds and the sea, from the wind sweeping across the snow-covered plains.
The time has come, once again, to embrace your uniqueness and to reinvent yourselves in today’s world.
To seize the tools of your own development and to spread the message of hope from the peoples of the North to the peoples of the world.
Every day, you are living proof that you hold the key to making this happen.
It is my wish that the Summit on Inuit Education will ignite the sparks of hope, like the aurora borealis that fill the northern skies with majestic fields of light.
Together, we will make this happen!
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