Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion’s UnConference

March 1, 2023

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I would like to acknowledge that I’m speaking to you from Rideau Hall, which sits on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people who have lived on and cared for this land for thousands of years.

Thank you for the invitation to address the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion’s UnConference. This is an important gathering to speak about an issue that touches us all.

Throughout my life and career, I’ve seen how diversity can be empowering. And I’m inspired by all of you who are here to pause, reflect and project. This is something I’ve taken the time to do throughout my career. And as I consider how diversity, equity and inclusion have advanced, even with all the work still to come, it is cause for hope. Let me give you one example.

On November 23, 2021, less than six months on the job as governor general, I read the Speech from the Throne, to open the 44th Parliament of Canada. And I delivered a portion of that speech in my language, Inuktitut. Would this have been possible twenty years ago?  Ten years ago?

For the first time in our country’s history, our elected representatives heard the Speech from the Throne spoken in an Indigenous language. It was both historic and a clear sign of diversity and inclusivity in action. This was significant, as Canada hasn’t always been open to acknowledging and welcoming the diversity of Indigenous peoples.  

But we must reflect on those moments that signal change.  And in my mind, and for many others, this was reconciliation in action.  It was a moment made possible by the hard work of so many, through the years, that cherished a vision of inclusion for this country.

I remember in 1981, I was part of the negotiating team on behalf of Inuit that contributed to the patriation of the Canadian Constitution. Back then, First Nations, Inuit and Métis were all lumped into one group called “aboriginal peoples.” However, this designation ignored the rich diversity among Indigenous peoples. Eventually, with Section 35 of the Act, we achieved recognition of three distinct Indigenous peoples of Canada—First Nations, Inuit and Métis—and affirmed the rights and treaty rights of Canada’s first peoples.

As we’ve seen, both with Indigenous peoples and with others, language does, in fact, matter.  The words we choose matter.

Today, we continue to work towards better acknowledgement of the diversity of Indigenous communities, as well as other equity seeking groups.

I share this because, as I reflect on Canada’s commitment to reconciliation, inclusion and diversity, it is not always evident to know that today, the one issue or change you are pushing for will affect the future. That work, back in 1982, led to the moment of my installation as governor general. That thought gives me hope for the future.

You too, are working on change that may have a lasting impact on our society.  Many companies have prioritized diversity in their workplaces and in leadership positions. What’s more, we have seen greater diversity, and even, in some cases, parity, reflected in our elected and public officials.

Indigenous peoples, women, the 2SLGBTQI+ community, disability groups and minority communities—many have found their voices and are speaking up, making themselves heard. It is our responsibility to listen, in our country, in our homes and in our workplaces.

It is up to each of us to create a culture of inclusion.

How do we do this?  How can we be agents of change?

  • Be open to those around you.
  • Discover their stories.
  • Share yours.

This is how we create greater understanding and respect in our society. This is how we combat hate and stereotypes.

And I have seen that progress first-hand. I have seen the heart and perseverance shown by Indigenous people who use their law degrees to defend treaty rights; by women journalists who are speaking up against online violence; by leaders who are mentoring, encouraging and hiring the next generation of BIPOC trailblazers. It’s their actions that will create the change we need in Canada and the world.

And so, as you begin your discussions today, I want to ask you, where do you see Canada a decade from now?

The world has changed drastically since the days I was young, not being allowed to speak my language at school with the threat of being punished. We are a diverse and global society that needs to embrace our differences and work together to solve the most pressing issues of our time.

We must continue to forge and maintain relationships, both with Indigenous peoples and with all the peoples of this land, no matter how they identify, the colour of their skin, their abilities, where they come from or who they love.

I see great hope for our future. I see a day where diversity, equity and inclusion are not topics of concern, but blueprints for the way forward.

Let us all create a Canada where everyone can be free to be who they are.

I encourage you to listen and learn, and, when this conference is over, to reach out to your network, to those who aren’t here, and share with them the knowledge you have gained.

I wish all of you fruitful and enlightening discussions.

Thank you.