Speech by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, on the Occasion of the Presentation of the Governor General’s Northern Medal to Nellie Cournoyea and Youth Town Hall Meeting
Inuvik, Monday, April 14, 2008
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Amid this majestic landscape, surrounded by these young faces, I have come, Nellie, to honour the life you have lived and to acknowledge publicly the star that you are in the northern sky.
This is the first time that the Northern Medal will be presented in this part of the country, where compass needles align and where you, Nellie, have roots that run deep.This corner of the world seems to whisper to your heart, a quiet memory forever felt deep within your bones.
Just before her departure, my predecessor, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson, created the Northern Medal as her legacy.
She saw it as a way of saying to Canadians, and I quote: ” This is a hero you may not have heard of. This is a part of the country that deserves your attention and respect. Listen: any friend of the North is a friend of Canada.”
I believe it is high time that the South heard a little about the North.
That the South knew that extraordinary things are happening here. That up here are people with vision, courage and daring. People like you, Nellie.
Like your ancestors who were in tune with the shifting winds on the sea and the snow-covered plains, you sensed a change in the air and knew that the North was at a turning point in its history and development.
You seized hold of that opportunity for development and shaped the future of this territory.
You took an active role in territorial negotiations, for the good and prosperity of all.
You ensured that the profits from developing this territory’s resources would go to its people, to the Aboriginal communities.
You did all of this without ever losing that part of you that is forever connected to a history, a culture, a knowledge dating back thousands of years.
In fact, you did so while ensuring that this history, culture, knowledge were respected and valued.
You represent the best of both worlds. This makes you a role model, particularly for the youth who are following in your footsteps.
You instil in their hearts a sense of pride, confidence, a strong desire to be true to themselves and to fight for their convictions.
You help them to understand how important it is to be bold and to dream big. That it is possible to open the North to new perspectives, to new paths, while continuing to protect it.
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 explore the world and life itself in all their dimensions.
I know that it’s not always easy to find your place in the world.
When I visited Iqaluit and Cape Dorset in Nunavut, many young people just like you told me that they feel torn between two worlds: on the one hand, the world of their parents and grandparents, who grieve to see it fading away; and on the other hand, the modern world in which they are living.
My heart weeps whenever even one of you floats adrift, only to be pulled under into self-destruction.
It has to stop, whatever the cost.
You must be given the opportunity to open yourselves to the best the world has to offer and all that it can offer you, while being proud of who you are.
This is the opportunity that your education can give you.
My grandmother always said, “Education, my children, is the key to freedom.” And she was right.
It is the freedom to dream, to reach our full potential, to do anything we set our minds to.
The freedom to choose your own destiny.
The freedom to define who you are and to share it with the world.
School is cool.
You are brimming with ideas; you’ve got guts, daring.
Youth of Inuvik, youth from the four corners of the Beaufort Delta: become role models for other young people throughout the Arctic and 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.
It is up to you to create opportunities for yourselves and for your community.
You are living proof of this, Nellie.
You already said, “I might be the one that’s being recognized but I didn’t get there by myself. A lot of the work and success that we had is a result of us working as a team.”
I am awarding this medal to you, Nellie, on behalf of your people, who stand beside you, who love and support you.
And on behalf of all Canadians, who see in you a source of pride and inspiration.
No, we haven’t heard the last of the North. Or of you, Nellie Cournoyea.
Thank you for being our bright North Star, guiding us like a promise–a great promise of hope.