Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean Speech on the Occasion of the Presentation of the National Aboriginal Role Model Awards
Rideau Hall, Saturday, June 21, 2008
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
How wonderful it is to meet you and welcome you here, to Rideau Hall.
You know, I was born on an island, where legends shape our relationship with the universe.And I was delighted to find here, in my adopted homeland, your own legends that enrich the heritage of humanity.
I would like to share with you a legend of which I am particularly fond. It comes from the Inuit people and is one I like to tell because, I think, it beautifully illustrates what it means to be a role model, as you will soon discover.
It is the story of a mosquito that one day lands on the arm of a young boy.
“Don’t hit me, don’t hit me!” the mosquito buzzed. “I must sing for my grandchildren.”
Imagine that. That little mosquito was a grandfather, and an entire line of mosquitoes depended on him.
“Just think,” the young boy said, “he is so small and already a grandfather.”
And so it was that the mosquito taught the young boy an important lesson.
That, big or small, we all have a responsibility to those who follow in our footsteps.
The responsibility to be a role model. And such a responsibility is truly ageless.
We often say that the future depends on you, the youth of our communities, which is quite true.
But what about the present? Is it not as important as the future?
Well, I believe that the present depends on your happiness and your desire to live life to its fullest, to make a difference and to change the world for the better.
I know that many Aboriginal youths struggle to find a place for themselves.
At times, it seems that far too many of them feel trapped, as though the future were closed off to them and opportunities, non‑existent.
My heart weeps whenever even one of you floats adrift, only to be pulled under into the deep sea of self-destruction.
It has to stop, whatever the cost.
But there is no doubt in my mind that each and every one of you here today is part of the solution.
When you set out to visit your communities, tell other young people that they should not be afraid to dream big and to seize every opportunity presented to them.
Instil in their hearts a sense of confidence, a strong desire to be true to themselves and to fight for their convictions.
Help them to understand the importance of being proud of who they are, of their history, of their culture, of their languages. Show them the wealth they hold in their hands, the treasure that is their ancient heritage.
You can all become role models for the youth of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, for youth across Canada, who need hope and ask nothing more than to believe that anything is possible if you work hard enough.
I know you can do this.
Too many of your parents and grandparents lived through terrible experiences, the effects of which are still so visible.
Many were taken from their families and communities at a very young age and shut away in shameful residential schools.
This past June 11, in the heart of Parliament, words of sorrow and regret gave way to expressions of hope and reconciliation, in a powerful admission of wrongdoing.
The time had come to break down the wall of indifference and re‑establish the truth of this dark, painful chapter in our history.
On that day, together—Inuit, Métis, First Nations and non-Aboriginals—we joined hands in committing to bridge the gaps entrenched by years of injustice.
You, the Aboriginal youths we are honouring today, you are the promise of a better future for your parents, for your communities, and for us all.
You are living proof of this: you have the ability to create opportunities for yourselves and for those around you.
Continue on this path and, by your example, inspire others to follow in your footsteps.
This is what it means to be a role model.
Inspiring others to join you so that together, you can continue to shape the world and—who knows?—maybe even find new paths.
We could not have hoped for a better occasion that National Aboriginal Day to recognize in you a new generation of role models and to pay tribute to all that you have accomplished.
If you only knew how proud I am of you.
Congratulations to you, one and all!