Opening Remarks – Frankfurt Book Fair

October 19, 2021

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FRANKFURT, Germany —Hello. Bonjour. Guten Tag (Inuktitut phrase by Her Excellency).

I am so pleased to be here, in person, to officially kick off Canada’s participation as the Guest of Honour at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair.

This is an exceptional time in world history. The first global pandemic in more than 100 years. It will have a lasting impact on all of us. And on our stories.

Of course, art, culture and literature have helped to sustain us through these challenging times. Many people have discovered and found comfort and connection in a new world of words throughout this pandemic.

I want to thank the organizers of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the upcoming guest of honour countries, Spain, Slovenia and Italy, for their patience, their understanding, and their partnership in helping to ensure that Canada would have its best opportunity to share our stories with the world. 

Last year, we introduced you to our theme for Canada’s Guest of Honour year: Singular Plurality. It captures Canada’s culture of diversity, where each of us is unique but connected by our shared values and our differences.

We are a multicultural nation. This is more than just a fact. It is part of our identity. That spirit comes alive in Canadian literature, which is bursting with new voices and unique perspectives that are all a part of the diverse backgrounds that represent Canada.

This is our “Singular Plurality.” And we want to share it with you and with the rest of the world.

From coast, to coast, to coast, Canadian authors have creative and profound stories to tell, each built upon a multitude of unique influences, perspectives and experiences.

Canada is a vast nation, with a geography as diverse as its people. Our stories are mapped across the land that we love – from the wind-swept coasts of Atlantic Canada, through forests of pines around the Great Lakes, across the big skies covering endless prairies, over the peaks and glaciers of the Rocky Mountains, and up into the Arctic tundra under the majestic northern lights.

“Singular Plurality” captures this idea that Canada’s story is not just one story. It is built by the stories of every Canadian.

My own story began a long way from here in a part of Arctic Quebec now known as Nunavik. I was a child of two worlds: the Inuit world and the non-Inuit, southern world.

I grew up living a traditional Inuit lifestyle – travelling by dog-sled or boat, learning how to hunt, fish, gather food and live off the land. My parents and my grandmother taught me and my siblings all I would need to know about my heritage.

And at night? My Inuit grandmother loved to tell us legends.

My favourite was always the story of Sedna. There are many different variations of this myth but my grandmother would tell us the less gruesome version.

The legend is about how Sedna became the ruler of the Inuit underworld and how the different species of seals, walruses and other sea mammals were born. It’s a creation myth.

I believe that all of our stories are creation myths. Our stories are how we create ourselves.

Through my own story, I learned to navigate two very different worlds. I learned to find my voice and to be a strong voice for others still struggling to be heard. I learned that our stories connect us and give us strength.

Oral history, like the legends my grandmother told to me and my siblings, are an important part of Inuit culture, of Indigenous culture. Similar traditions transcend borders and languages.

Every culture has stories and history passed down from generation to generation.

In Canada’s North, these oral traditions, and the act of sharing them, are what connects us to each other and what connects us to the land and waters. Growing up, we would often hear about southern expeditions to the Arctic. Those that survived were the ones who asked the Inuit for help.

If that isn’t a lesson about the importance of sharing our stories with each other, I don’t know what is.

We need to nurture and protect our stories and our storytellers. We need to find room in the world and in our hearts for all stories to thrive.

In the North and in every part of Canada, Indigenous peoples are reasserting their presence on the land and reclaiming their identities. They are revitalizing their languages and sharing their stories, histories and knowledge of the lands they have occupied for thousands of years.

In Canada, we are also working to acknowledge and come to grips with a dark and painful chapter of our story, the truth of our history.

Many thousands of Indigenous lives have been scarred or lost entirely to the impacts and legacy of residential schools in Canada.

There is no easy way to heal these wounds. It takes time, trust, compassion, respect and understanding.

Reconciliation is a way of life. It is getting to know one another. It is seeing the world through a different set of eyes.

Reconciliation is telling our stories to each other, the good ones and the bad. Our legends and history. Our truth and our pain and our hopes.

We must work at it every day.

I have read stories and novels by many Indigenous authors. They are not always easy stories. But they are important stories. Stories of pride and strength. Stories that bring us all closer to healing, to understanding and to reconciliation.

I encourage everyone to engage with the many talented Indigenous storytellers participating in the Frankfurt Book Fair.

I also invite you to fully explore and enjoy everything that Canada has to offer as the Guest of Honour, in English, en français, even in German. All from a diverse panorama of cultural perspectives.

We are very excited for the world to join us at the Canada Pavilion.

We are also proud to be the first Guest of Honour country at the Frankfurt Book Fair to introduce a virtual pavilion that will complement our “in person” activities with unique and interactive online programming.

Together, our real and virtual pavilions will showcase Canada’s authors, illustrators and performers in an innovative and immersive experience that will keep visitors “COVID safe” and shine a spotlight on the rich diversity of Canadian literature and culture.

We are eager to tell you our stories, and grateful for this chance to share in your stories.

Because our stories matter.

It’s our stories that make us who we are and make up our world.

I would like to give the final word to one of our storytellers, the late Richard Wagamese, an Ojibwe author and journalist from the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations in northwestern Ontario, who wrote:

“All that we are is story… It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind…. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can tell while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship – we change the world, one story at a time…”

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch. Nakurmik. Danke.