The Viceregal Lion
  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Address to the Students of Yukon College

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Whitehorse, Thursday, February 10,  2011


It is a great pleasure for my wife, Sharon, and I to join you here in Whitehorse, at the outset of our first official visit to Yukon.

Let me begin by thanking Linda Harvey who performed this beautiful welcome song.

Since my installation as governor general last October, we have been looking forward to travelling ‘north of 60’ to speak with you and to learn more about your lives in this beautiful and historic part of the country.

This is an exciting time to visit Yukon College. I know that some years ago, when this campus moved from the banks of the Yukon River to its present location, Elder Angela Sydney named it Ayamdigut. I believe that this word, which means “she got up and went” in Tlingit, also serves as a wonderful description of the energy and dynamism of the students and faculty at Yukon College, and of northerners in general.

Northerners are very much on the move these days, and people around the world are taking notice.

A wonderful example is the Research Centre of Excellence here at Yukon College, which has made great strides in developing a knowledge economy for the benefit of Yukoners. We’ve just heard that a delegation from the Centre is presently visiting northern Europe to seek partnerships in climate change and energy technology, and I want to congratulate you on your success.

Subarctic regions around the world are looking to Yukon for smart responses to climate change. The Cold Climate Innovation Centre here at Yukon College is helping northerners adapt to a changing climate.

The landscapes, peoples and cultures of the North have long inspired our collective interest and imagination. In the past, this has often meant that northern history was shaped by outsiders.

But for some time now, northern Canada has been reinventing itself. Besides your leadership in climate change research and innovation, you are breaking new ground in education and training, native languages, and circumpolar studies. 

These developments are truly exciting, but there is nothing new about northern ingenuity. For generations, Yukoners have adapted new methods and technologies to their ways of life.

This was the case during the 19th century fur trade, when Yukon First Nations exchanged pelts for European trade goods. History tells us that First Nations traders only accepted goods that were useful and appropriate to their societies. Natives paired new technologies with traditional knowledge and were able to influence the fur trade to their advantage.

I am reminded of the raven, the official bird of Yukon, which features in so many First Nations’ stories. This very intelligent and clever bird is known for its ability to seize opportunities.

Over the course of my mandate, my goal as governor general is to help to shape Canada into a truly smart and caring nation. By this, I mean a nation where all Canadians can succeed, contribute and develop their talents to their fullest potential. We want this to be a country that increases and applies the knowledge of its people to improve the condition of all—at home and abroad.

To achieve this goal, I believe we have to focus on three pillars:

- Supporting families and children;
- Encouraging philanthropy and volunteerism; and
- Reinforcing learning and innovation.

Today, I’d like to highlight some of my ideas for learning and innovation.

I can think of no other nation that has worked harder than Canada to ensure equality of opportunity. Our public education systems are something in which Canadians can, and must, take pride. Canadian students have universal access to primary and secondary education. Here in Yukon, students have access to trained native language teachers, thanks in no small part to the efforts of the Yukon Native Language Centre.

Nevertheless, there is much more work to be done. What can we do to encourage learning and innovation as we pursue our vision of a smarter, more caring Canada? How can we square the pursuit of excellence with equality of opportunity for all Canadians?

I believe we must continue to innovate socially, and technologically, to give people the education, skills and training they need to thrive in our globalized world and do so with a spirit of originality.

And how do we do that?

First, we need to innovate socially, in terms of the investment we make in people’s lives, schools and workplaces.

We must cherish our teachers, as they have taken it upon themselves to inspire, encourage and challenge us. Many of you will have learned invaluable lessons and stories from the Elders of your communities, and anyone who has achieved any degree of success in their lives can point to the teachers and mentors who have helped make them better people along the way.

It is also important to ensure that First Nations peoples have the same access to quality education and training as all Canadians. In this respect, Yukon College is a leader, with 13 campuses offering courses in the classroom and remotely using videoconferencing and online technology.

I also want to commend your First Nation Initiatives department for fostering a deeper appreciation and understanding of native culture, history and traditional knowledge among non-Aboriginal people. The smarter, more caring Canada we strive for recognizes that though we have much in common, we also have much to learn from one another.

We also need to find better ways to integrate new, highly-skilled and highly-educated immigrants into our labour market, in Yukon and in the rest of Canada.

Tomorrow, we will be visiting Old Crow, where human habitation in Canada first began. I know that learning and education are priorities among the people of Old Crow, the most northerly community in Yukon.

Perhaps there is something about living in the North that lends itself to life-long learning. Pierre Berton, a great Yukoner, wrote:

“There is a saying that after five years in the north every man is an expert; after ten years, a novice.” What Berton means is that life in Yukon humbles us; there is always more to learn.

To be sure, the learning never ends in a land such as this. And in a globalized world, the horizons for Yukoners, and for all Canadians, are boundless. In this new, “flat” world, I believe that knowledge is the foundation on which a society is built, and innovation is the tool we use to improve it.

But it all begins with learning. Through learning, people gain a sense of pride that empowers their families, their communities and their country. I have seen this in my own life, as a student and educator, and I know that many of you are eager to share your education and skills with your home communities.

On the crest of my new coat of arms, there is the image of a burning candle. The candle symbolizes not only enlightenment, but also the transmission of learning from one person to another. The sharing of knowledge enlightens our communities and our country.

Your eagerness to share what you have learned is cause for celebration, and I commend you for the dedication you have shown to your communities. I know that recent developments in northern Canada has led to it being called ‘the new North’ by some, but there is nothing new about the caring you show towards one another.

Having built a nation that learns, Canada must also foster a nation that cares, and looks outward, beyond its borders, to the wider world. The partnerships and links that Yukon College has created with schools and institutes in the rest of Canada and abroad are fostering new generations of globally-minded northerners. I know a number of students are here from Meiji University in Japan, and I would like to take this opportunity to warmly welcome you on behalf of all Canadians.

As you seek to develop your culture of life-long learning and innovation, imagine what Yukon will look like in years to come. Imagine the example you will set for the rest of Canada.

Yukon will be defined as smart, as you give people the tools they need to pursue fresh ideas and solutions in the classroom, laboratory and workplace. And Yukon will be defined as caring, as you place a high priority on helping people through difficult circumstances through life-long education, skills development and training.

In this way, you will continue to inspire all Canadians to think and dream bigger, as Yukoners have always done.

But before I leave you, I am pleased to say that our adventure will continue beyond this wonderful visit. I have just learned that Yukon College will now be part of the Governor General’s Academic Program. So next spring, one of you will receive the Governor General Academic Medal for your academic achievements. Congratulations.

Thank you.