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Youth Dialogue in Winnipeg

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Youth Dialogue on the Occasion of International Year of Youth

Winnipeg, Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How are you?

Thank you for that warm welcome.

Let me begin by honouring the Aboriginal peoples who have inhabited this land for millennia and constitute our deepest roots in this country.

I am so delighted to be back in Winnipeg with you the residents of North Point Douglas. My last visit to your neighbourhood in 2007, when I held an Urban Arts Forum at Graffiti Gallery, is deeply etched in my mind.

For I was deeply moved by the openness and great honesty with which you expressed your concerns about the serious issues confronting your community.

Even today, I still remember a fifteen-year old resident in tears, speaking about the abuse he had experienced in foster care, while encouraging his peers not to give in to crime and to never lose hope.

I still remember a middle-aged mother of four, speaking about the stabbings she and her children had witnessed on their doorstep.

And I still remember the two young girls from Norquay Elementary School who courageously read a letter that called on everyone to stand up and rid their community of guns, gangs and drugs.

Elected officials, including provincial ministers, municipal councillors, as well as members of the Order of Canada and other influential members of the Winnipeg community joined our conversation by speaking passionately about their desire to accompany you in your endeavours.

It was one of the most moving dialogues I have held during my tenure as 27th governor general of Canada.

So you can only imagine my delight when Steven Wilson wrote just eight months later to tell me that North Point Douglas had established a neighbourhood revitalization initiative that was so successful that it allowed you to reduce crime by 70 percent and shut down thirty-two crack houses in the community.

I was blown away.

As a former journalist who has worked across Canada and abroad, I had never, ever come across anything as powerful and effective as the strategy you implemented to uplift North Point Douglas.

That is why I vowed to return to this neighbourhood to congratulate you, on behalf of all Canadians, for what you have accomplished.

So, when I learned that the United Nations was dedicating 2010 and 2011 as the International Year of Youth—which I launched in Canada on August 10th, at Rideau Hall and on Parliament Hill—I decided to honour and celebrate the achievements of North Point Douglas by dedicating a special edition of my “Can We Talk” Youth Dialogues series to you.

So today’s Youth Dialogue represents the fourth I have held in Canada to celebrate the International Year of Youth in Canada. These dialogues have allowed me to converse with hundreds of young people, as well as decision makers, philanthropists and members of the Order of Canada, in Ottawa, St. John’s, Saskatoon, and now Winnipeg.

I look forward over the next few weeks to meeting with youth in Montreal and Toronto, where I will complete this series.

What is essential today is hearing directly from you about what you have achieved and about the ways in which you have accomplished this incredible feat.

It is important because there are communities across Canada that are struggling to tackle some of the same issues you have so effectively addressed.

They need to be inspired.

They need to know that citizens have the power to bring about change.

They need to know that to uplift a community, a city and nation, everyone must listen to the voices of youth.

And you, the residents of North Point Douglas, the police service, the municipal authorities, the provincial government, the educators, the health and social service providers, you understand this.

Because three years ago, you chose to listen to the young people of Winnipeg and to follow up.

You could have ignored their plea for help and their concrete recommendations.

But you opened your hearts and listened, and the impact of your openness is still bearing fruit. That, dear friends, is what solidarity, inclusion and good governance are all about.

You are an inspiration to the nation.

That is why I am looking forward to continuing to work with you and young people across Canada, through a new foundation, the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, which will be headquartered in Ottawa. It will focus on supporting and empowering a national network of youth organizations across Canada, particularly—Steven Wilson—those organizations using the urban arts as tools for social transformation.

Through your achievements, you have proved that dialogue and mutual understanding—the key themes of the International Year of Youth—are crucial in creating stronger, more inclusive and prosperous communities.

Our conversation this afternoon will offer the people of Winnipeg, and citizens across Canada, ideas on how they can be as successful as you.

It is my deepest wish.

Thank you.