July 19, 2022
It has now been a year since I became Canada’s 30th governor general, the first Indigenous person to serve in this role. Undoubtedly, my predecessors would share the observation that the first year of being governor general is devoted to better understanding the nature of the role, along with seeing its possibilities. I am writing to you today about what I understand those possibilities to be.
In the weeks following my arrival at Rideau Hall, my husband, Whit, and I were deeply moved by the Canadians who reached out to voice their concerns and aspirations for our country. If there was a common theme to these messages, it was a pride in Canada that an Indigenous person was now The Queen’s representative. There was also a sense that we were at a turning point in our country’s history.
I have been engaged in other turning points in Canada’s history, including the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the 2008 Apology for Residential Schools and, in 2010, as an honorary witness with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Thinking back on those moments, they had a few things in common: an acknowledgment of outcomes from past chapters in our history; an earnest determination to bridge divides; and a call for a commitment to tackle consequential nation-building issues. These were signature moments for our country. They called on all of us—as individuals, as community members, as leaders in business, government or civil society—to ask and answer simple but far-reaching questions that come with citizenship: What can we do better and how can we do it? Now, as governor general, I ask myself the other question that is my constant companion: how can I help move things forward?
In the early days of my appointment, I sought guidance from people of diverse backgrounds on how I could answer this question. They encouraged me to use my voice to amplify issues and bring them to the attention of decision makers at all levels. I can do this by asking important and honest questions, inviting necessary conversations, connecting change makers, listening, learning and building on successes, large and small. My position has limits. I cannot make policy or create programs. However, I can use my convening role to help build alliances that can promote change.
At my installation, I said I would make reconciliation, mental health, nature and the environment, climate change, education, youth, and diversity and inclusion priorities during my time as governor general. I know full well there are large and vexing challenges within these priority areas, but nation building is hard. It requires work at every level, and the voices of all generations, to find a unity of purpose. All of these priorities are interconnected. In my travels, I have seen inspiring, innovative and forward-thinking approaches to these priorities, and I intend to focus my attention on shedding light and building on these successes.
In the quiet moments of this first year as governor general, I have thought a lot about the path that brought me here to Rideau Hall. My life has followed the challenging path that is the reconciliation journey in our country.
This past year, my experiences have deepened my view of what reconciliation looks like. The path of reconciliation is a migration, not a destination. Reconciliation is not achieved as a project, but rather as a societal shift. That migration includes conversations that are courageous, honest and often spoken of as essential to healing. Reconciliation is about the relationships we build and sustain: relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, relationships between generations and relationships with our land and waters.
It has been truly inspiring this past year to see the very thoughtful and deliberate work on reconciliation being undertaken by Canadians. Across Canada, the contributions of Indigenous peoples are being valued, shared and celebrated. Spaces are being created to have honest conversations about the past. Indigenous peoples are telling our country’s complete history, about the hard realities of our past and the urgencies of the present, through books, art, architecture, music, traditional ceremonies and so many other ways. It has reassured me that enduring change is possible, and that the hard, nation-building work that lies ahead on reconciliation will be shouldered by all Canadians. I intend to ensure that my office supports and amplifies these efforts.
My visit to the site of the former residential school in Kamloops—a place of extraordinary beauty, shrouded in this painful history—has stayed with me. As an Inuk woman, I am proud that we have arrived at a place in our country where Indigenous peoples have found increasing acceptance to share their stories.
I understand that, as the first Indigenous governor general, I have had high expectations placed on me to help interpret a path forward on reconciliation. I will do my utmost to honour the trust these expectations imply.
I have had the great fortune as a Canadian to be born in the Arctic, where the relationship with the land and the natural world was integral to our well-being. In my role as governor general, I want to recognize those who are acting as stewards and caretakers of our natural world, and who are ensuring that the diversity and health of our abundant natural resources remain central to our well-being. The stakes are high. Our world is changing fast, and each of us has a role and a responsibility to help take care of our planet: the only home we have.
During this first year, I have also come to understand the important role a governor general serves, on behalf of all Canadians, in commemorating and remembering, in honouring and in bringing people together. On the crisp fall day of my first Remembrance Day as governor general and commander-in-chief, the sun illuminated the courage of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect the values we hold dear. I shared with all Canadians the deep love and pride I have for our country. In addition, I learned that governors general play an important role at home and overseas representing Canada on State visits, presenting honours and awards of excellence, congratulating Canadians on milestones and sharing in moments of sorrow. In these moments, I have witnessed the values and priorities we cherish, and I will honour this trusted role.
What has impressed me this year during my visits with Canadians is the quality and range of leadership I see at work. I have often thought that we sometimes think too narrowly about leadership. It does not rest solely with elected officials, the business community and civil society leaders, though they are essential. Thankfully, in small community halls, school gyms, Royal Canadian Legions, places of worship and in thousands of community service organizations, there are ordinary Canadians doing extraordinary things. There is also an incoming generation of leaders whose voices I hear from coast to coast to coast. They are faced with global issues of a scale we have not seen before, and I am inspired by their fearless determination to tackle these challenges.
My word of encouragement for this incoming generation, and for all Canadians, is a word from my first language of Inuktitut. A word that speaks of resilience: ajuinnata—to never give up. It is a long and difficult road ahead towards reconciliation and as we address many other issues. As Canadians, we must face this together with resolve and courage.
Thank you for your continuing support.
Rideau Hall Press Office