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Launch of the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Program

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Launch of the Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Program

Gatineau, Monday, May 7, 2010    

Thank you, Mary, for your kind words.

Let me begin by honouring the Algonquin people on whose ancestral land we stand today.

It is such a pleasure for me to join you today in celebrating the launching of the Coady International Institute’s national Indigenous Women in Community Leadership program.

Today’s event brings so much joy to my heart, because I have always believed in the power of women to improve the quality of life of their communities.

For women possess the gift of life.

Women embody the spirit of caring.

Women carry the light of hope.

And it is these life-affirming qualities that strengthen the fabric of our society.

That is why I feel so comfortable in saying that our nation’s future—I would even say humanity’s future—is inextricably linked to the everyday efforts of women in their communities.

Let us say it loud and clear: women are the backbone of our society.

And it is imperative that we pool our strengths and resources to ensure that they are fully empowered to be leaders in our non-profit organizations, in our private sector companies, and in our legislative bodies.

No truer is this than for the Inuit, Métis and First Nations women of Canada who, even today, are underrepresented in many of our key institutions.

Allow me to call you my sisters.

For you know the true value of effective leadership.

You have broken free from the shackles of colonial oppression and discrimination.

You have emerged defiant from the harrowing experience of the Indian Residential Schools, one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history.

You have succeeded in preserving and revitalizing many of the rich cultures, languages and traditions that have flourished on this continent for millennia.

Yours is an inspiring story of courage and resistance that more Canadians need to hear.

To repeat the words of Mary Simon, whom we are honouring today, Aboriginal “language and culture is still strong and alive.”

And we have, in part, you, the indigenous women of Canada, to thank for this great achievement.

Wherever I go—whether at home or abroad—I like to remind everyone I meet that Canada’s indigenous heritage is our deepest root, and we must all—aboriginal and non-aboriginal—work vigorously to see it nurtured and protected.

It is a shared responsibility, which requires vigilance.

Every gesture counts.

And everyone has a role to play.

That is why the words of sorrow and profound regret expressed in Parliament, during the Official Apology to Former Students of Residential Schools in 2008, were so important.

For the historic occasion was more than an admission of wrongdoing or an act of atonement.

The official apology was a rousing call to action, inviting us all to look beyond our misgivings, our prejudices, and our wounds in order to begin building anew, on the firm foundation of truth, justice, human dignity, and solidarity.

And tonight, dear friends, you have chosen to answer this clarion call, which—two years later— still resonates deeply in our hearts.

By cultivating the leadership potential of the new generation of indigenous women, you are lending your hand to a national drive to bring healing, reconciliation, and more fellowship and prosperity to our land.

As honorary patron of the Coady International Institute, I am proud to be associated with this great initiative.

You are all to be commended for creating this new program.

Let me close by quoting a twenty-seven-year-old woman, who was recently elected to her band council on Manitoulin Island.

At a Youth Dialogue I held at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, she told me, “In 20 years, the memories of our children will not be of the residential school era.”

“It will be of the freedom fighters and the youth who stood up and took over our land and said: Alright, we’re here, we’re loud, and we’re proud.”

Dear friends, let us make sure that her prophetic words are realized.

It is my deepest wish.

Thank you.