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Presentation of the National Native Role Models

Rideau Hall
Friday, April 14, 2000.

I'm pleased this evening to have the opportunity to play a part in honouring the nine individuals who will serve as National Native Role Models over the next two years.

I'm sure no one knows better than the successful nominees that it is both an honour and a responsibility to be selected as a Role Model. To be seen as a source of inspiration and pride is an eminent distinction. But at the same time, those who are held in such high esteem have a responsibility to provide leadership in the community and to lead by example.

You have been chosen, in part, because you are in, and of, the community. On a practical note, sharing your history, experiences, successes and failures reveals the common threads that link you with those around you. Symbolically, you are the embodiment of a dream, the living proof that obstacles are not insurmountable. I'm reminded of Anna Cameron's novel, Dreamspeaker, where she wrote: "No evil can overcome the power of a dreamspeaker and if the initiation is painful, the rewards are great."

Tonight, as we look forward into the future in anticipation of your success, we must also acknowledge the past, the often painful history of Canada's First Nations peoples. As role models, you will have a part to play – you are playing a part – in the process of healing that must be undertaken by individuals, by native peoples and by all of Canadian society.

Over the next two years, as you share what happened to you and what you are making happen, all that you have learned in the journey of becoming yourselves – you will become more conscious of how the individual's search for identity is connected to the search for community. That quest is particularly difficult for native youth, who like all young people want most of all to belong, but who are not likely to see themselves often reflected in popular culture – not enough in magazines or on television. They need to know that they have to look elsewhere for their sense of affirmation, to see how they fit in. And some may be able to see that in you.

As some of you know, my husband John and I recently returned from Nunavut. It was an inspiring trip, brimming with remarkable people and wondrous moments which we will treasure. We were particularly struck by two things. One was the significance of Nunavut, where Inuit can now have pride of place. As one woman spontaneously told us, she now has an identity based on geography, a homeland she can be proud of, that can be proud of her. The other was seeing how the citizens of this great northern land are forging links between their traditional way of life and the modern world.

The people of Nunavut are creating the present in harmony with the past. It's something we've seen all across the country. While developing the skills to work on computers and the capacity to be integrated with the web-based world, they are deliberately remaining in touch with their roots. They place great value in knowing how to live off the land, to hunt and to fish, because they understand that the secret to remaining whole is keeping traditional ways of life while becoming modern. As Frank T'Seleie, then Chief of the Fort Good Hope Band of the Dene Nation, said in 1975: "We are like the river that flows and changes, yet is always the same."

We left Nunavut with a clear sense that these traditions do not belong to the past because tradition also links us to the future. You, the first group of national native role models in the new millennium, have been chosen because you exemplify the traditional virtues and modern action, and these things will sustain native peoples for thousands of years to come. You are the present and the past flows through you into the future. What a joy it must be for you to keep your culture, to share the heritage of your ancestors, to speak the language they spoke and, through rituals and traditions, to participate in the lives that they have lived.

This year's role models are a diverse group, nominated by communities across Canada. But you all share a commitment to integrating the traditions of the past with your dreams and actions of the future.

Dr. Annelind Wakegijig, a physician who draws on the native tradition of helping others, hopes to open a practice combining traditional Anishinabek medicine with that of western society.

Annita McPhee, who, in the tradition of sharing, is taking the skills she acquired in earning her Law degree back to the community.

Chantal Martin who, after her father's death, found the inner strength she needed in her heritage and is now pursuing her education in social science.

Douglas Cardinal, who has enjoyed a career in the oil and gas industry which involved international travel and wants to similarly broaden the horizons of his people.

Jacqueline Davis, a breast cancer survivor who is bringing breast health and awareness education to native women.

Marie Smith-Tutin, who is combining a background in competitive sports with a career in health care.

Matthew Dunn, who wants to integrate native spirituality with a career in engineering.

Maurice Hepworth, who speaks honestly about overcoming obstacles in his quest to become a Federal Correctional Officer.

And performer Stan Isadore who exemplifies bravery and the value of the arts in helping us to know ourselves.

Your accomplishments and the traditional virtues you exemplify are an inspiration to us all as Canadians. In the process of becoming role models, you have often overcome great odds. As you go forward in the months and years to come you will encounter other challenges. I hope you can draw sustenance from your traditions and be inspired by the words of Arthur Shelling, an Ojibwa painter who said: "There are not enough shadows in the world to overcome the colour in my mind."

Thank you.

Updated: 2000-04-14
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