National Aboriginal Day
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Community Feast on the Occasion of National Aboriginal Day
Mashteuiatsh, Quebec, Sunday, June 21, 2009
For my husband Jean-Daniel Lafond, our daughter Marie-Éden, and I, it is a great pleasure and distinct honour to share this meal with the Mashteuiatsh community, the Aboriginal people from the Saguenay‑Lac-Saint-Jean region.
This is one of my first regional visits in Quebec, outside of the urban centres of Montréal and the City of Québec, and I wanted to spend it with you who, as I like to say as often as I can, represent our deepest roots in the Americas.
I am especially proud to be here with you today on the occasion of National Aboriginal Day.
It is my way—as I did in Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, in 2006; Whitehorse, Yukon, in 2007; and at the Quebec Native Women Inc. Conference in Wendake in 2008—of celebrating the priceless contribution of the Aboriginal peoples to our history, to our unique identity, and to our future prospects.
Since my appointment as governor general of Canada, I have met with women and men, young and old, from Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities across our land.
Recently, I travelled to the Far North and the Arctic, where I had the opportunity to honour the traditions and witness the achievements of the Inuit people, who have been enriching our country for millennia and are a vital part of our national spirit.
In the same way, as I was touched to learn while visiting your Native Museum, six thousand years ago your ancestors, the Tshishennuatsh, penetrated the heart of the Canadian shield that had been freed from the glaciers and travelled around this territory via the waterways that flow into the Saguenay and the Pekuakami, the flat lake, renamed Lac Saint-Jean by Father Jean Dequen in 1647.
They laid the foundations of a civilization that we have all inherited, thousands of years later.
I believe that Aboriginal cultures are the oldest and most precious part of our collective heritage and form the very basis of each of our individual identities.
Your understanding and conception of the land, including all forms of life, forests, rivers, mountains, lakes, plants, rocks and animals, are an important lesson that all of humanity should heed, particularly in this age marked by the erosion of the environment, the greedy exploitation of our resources, and the lack of respect for the spirit that gives life to our entire world.
I would even go so far as to say that this freedom, which the European explorers found on our shores and which people from every background continue to find as a promise for a better future, begins with these wide open spaces, these majestic waters and generous lands whose spirit and very essence you, the Aboriginal peoples, have shared with us.
It was you, in the voice of your ancestors that continues to speak through you, who taught us to take root on this continent.
I never forget this. There are many of us who never forget this.
Your message is one of hope, and I want it to reach as many people as possible.
Know that I will stand by you in whatever way I can in your valiant efforts to preserve your irreplaceable heritage for generations to come and to ensure that every one of your children reaches his or her full potential and is able to be actively involved in developing your communities and contributing to national prosperity.
This is my promise to you. And the woman who stands before you knows the anguish of oppression and intolerance.
But the time has come, it seems to me, to build a history together, one that will at last bring us together and reflect who we are.
If we are to succeed, we need to illuminate our shadows and put right the injustices that grew out of a lack of understanding, indifference, fear and ignorance.
Establishing the truth means breaking down the solitudes between us, that too many oversights have served only to reinforce, and that we sometimes have a tendency to portray partially to benefit some to the detriment of others.
On June 11, I and a number of Aboriginal people took part in a discussion to reflect on the words of sorrow and profound regret that resonated in the heart of Parliament one year ago in a statement of apology to the former students of residential schools.
Those words born of indignation, as I said at the time and say again before you, spoke of a painful and disgraceful chapter in our history, one that saw Aboriginal children stripped of their cultures and languages, and non-Aboriginals deprived of a rich heritage that is among the richest in the Americas and the world.
When the present does not recognize the wrongs of the past, the future takes its revenge.
To name the injustice, to recognize its offences for what they are, is already a huge step forward.
It is vowing together to bridge the gap between us that had been entrenched by years of injustice, so that together, we might find the way to reconciliation.
It is making the choice to open our eyes, hearts and minds to new possibilities.
It is saying loud and clear that none of us accepts that even one of us should be excluded from our history books or from our memory.
Dear friends, on this National Aboriginal Day, which I have the privilege of spending with you, my sincerest wish is that we can work together to write a new chapter in our history, where each and every one of us has a place and recognizes that our strength comes from our connection.
An connection that, to borrow the beautiful imagery of Innu poet Rita Mestokosho, would no longer prevent “[translation] the earth from exhaling the gentle perfume of freedom,” and through which our greatest pride would be the solidarity between us.
A solidarity like that between you, the people of Mashteuiatsh and Roberval, which is both an example for others and a promise for the future for all communities of Canada and the world that are looking for more harmonious ways of sharing our greatest treasure, life in all of its dimensions.
We have learned so much from you.
It is with you that we want to rebuild the world.
Thank you for such a warm welcome, and long live the community of Mashteuiatsh!