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Dedication Ceremony at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument

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Dedication Ceremony at the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument

Ottawa, Monday June 21, 2010

It is with great emotion that I join you on the traditional land upon which the Algonquin Anishnabe people have lived and flourished from time immemorial.  

Today is National Aboriginal Day, and I stand before all of you, humbled by your inspiring words of affirmation that have uplifted our dedication ceremony this afternoon. 

Grounded in an intimate understanding of Indigenous cultures, your statements have spoken directly to the universality of human rights, which constitute the ethical and juridical pillars of our society.

Let us look above for a moment.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” 

This simple phrase, etched into this granite sculpture, sums up the universal credo of global solidarity and world peace that we share as human beings.

The Canadian Tribute to Human Rights Monument, around which we are congregated today, amplifies this credo, by evoking, through its design, the liberating power inherent in every gesture that acknowledges the sacredness of all human beings.

And today’s ceremony is very much about dedicating our hearts and minds to the global movement to enhance the dignity and rights of every human being, particularly those whose rights have yet to be fully recognized.

Let us be clear: Indigenous rights are human rights.

It is therefore no coincidence that the inner sanctum of this monument, the “House of Canada,” is populated now by 73 Aboriginal Languages Plaques.

Each plaque is carved meticulously in the rich languages of the first peoples of our land, in order to call upon the Indigenous values that breathe life into the concepts of equality, dignity and rights.

And I believe that the plaques’ symbolic position, in the heart of the monument, points to our collective right, and responsibility, to practice and revitalize Indigenous cultural traditions and to protect their past, present and future manifestations with zeal.

As I have said many times before, Indigenous cultures are the oldest and most precious part of our collective heritage.

It is incumbent on all Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to preserve this heritage, our Aboriginal heritage, for the generations to come.

We must all play our part.

For we have seen, and borne as a society, the great cost associated with violating this inalienable and—dare I say—this sacred right to Indigenous culture.

The story of the Indian Residential Schools—one of the darkest and most tragic chapters in our collective history—is strewn with shattered dreams, stolen lives, and the loss of ancient wisdom, languages and traditions.

Just last weekend, I attended the first national event of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As I sat alongside survivors of the residential schools, alongside their children and grandchildren, I listened, with tears in my eyes, to horrible stories of children being torn away from the arms of loving parents.

I heard about heart-wrenching cases of abuse committed by the very people entrusted to care for and educate Indigenous youth.

And I learned about the ways in which those traumatic experiences gave rise to a vicious cycle of abuse that still afflicts many children of residential school survivors today.

What became abundantly clear at this weekend’s national event is that for more than one-hundred years, there was a deliberate and calculated effort to destroy the deepest cultural root in North America.

And, it was through this policy of assimilation that Aboriginal peoples were dispossessed of their languages, their cultures, and their dignity, and of the precious bonds between generations. 

But Indigenous peoples were not the only ones to be dispossessed.

Non-Aboriginal peoples were also deprived of a unique opportunity to learn from these cultures and appreciate the spirit, beauty and sound of Indigenous languages, as well as the deep understanding of the land.

We are still paying the price as a society.

The disproportionately high suicide rates among Indigenous youth.

The scourge of substance abuse.

And the spats of gang violence plaguing many Indigenous communities.

All these are sad reminders that the legacy of the residential schools lives on today. 

That is why in participating in this weekend’s national gathering, I found great comfort and joy in the earnest desire to turn the page on this dark chapter by confronting history, and thus the unadulterated truth, together.

Through powerful words of reconciliation, we invited all Canadians—Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—to work together to chart a new course for our country.

A course that gives full recognition to the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples. 

A course that protects the rich languages, traditions and customs that have enriched our land since the dawn of time. 

A course that inspires us all to break down the solitudes that have separated Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people for so long. 

This is about bringing more healing and fellowship to our land.

This is about restoring dignity, a sense of self-worth and self-confidence to those who still bear the scars of past injustices.

This is about opening our hearts, our minds, and our eyes, to new possibilities, to new ways of living together. 

This is about building a brighter future for our children. 

This is about humanizing humanity.

By now, it should in fact be clear that the time has come for us to rebuild our nation on more solid, friendlier, more inclusive ground. 

For Indigenous rights are human rights.

So, as we stand on the steps of this sanctuary of hope and mark National Aboriginal Day, let us invite all Canadians to join their voices to the national drive for change that wants all our Indigenous peoples, communities and cultures to flourish and prosper once again. 

So let me say it again: it is in fact a shared responsibility. 

Everyone has a role to play—Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals, brought together to better define what we want to accomplish together, how we want to live together better. 

So let us seize this historic opportunity together. 

It is my most precious wish.

Thank you.