Presentation of the Northern Medal
Rideau Hall, Thursday, May 21, 2009
Welcome to Rideau Hall.
We have gathered here this morning under the favourable auspices of the Thunderbird and all Manitou spirits that inhabit the water, earth and sky to pay tribute to two northern stars.
This painting, born of the talent and generosity of the great Ojibway artist, Norval Morrisseau, proclaims the presence and legacy of the Aboriginal peoples, who are our deepest roots in this country.
I am absolutely delighted to be able to highlight the accomplishments of Georges Erasmus and Bertha Allen, just as I am preparing to set out on a tour of communities in Nunavut and Nunavik.
When electrically charged particles from the sun collide with the magnetosphere, the endless night sky in the North is transformed into a rippling curtain of colour.
Energy becomes light. The Aurora borealis is nature’s most beautiful spectacle.
I see our two recipients of the Northern Medal as those particles that have come from the sun to shake up what we have long held to be true and to light our way on the path toward equality, respect and reconciliation.
George Erasmus, you have shed new light on the subject of Aboriginal peoples and the North and on their deeply rooted connection to this country.
You have carried your message like a beacon, with conviction and dedication—with a little stubbornness thrown in for good measure—taking it to the highest authorities in the country.
You have made yourself a spokesperson, not only for your people, but for all those who, from the North to the South, from the South to the North, represent our deepest roots on this continent.
You have underscored how urgent it is for Aboriginal peoples to preserve and celebrate their languages, cultures and traditional knowledge, which are a treasure for them and for our entire country.
You have emphasized how important it is for them to reclaim the resources and lands upon which their survival has depended for millennia.
And you have encouraged all Canadians to acknowledge history and to find a new way of living together, one that is more equal and more just.
This is something that Bertha Allen has also called for on behalf of Aboriginal and northern women.
You wanted to give a voice to your sisters, to your kindred spirits, and have said that “[t]hings just don’t improve if we stay silent. A lot of us dared to make noise . . . so that we can make changes and get a better life for our community.”
You are one of those women who speak out in the hope of changing things for the better. As your voices join as one, your words also reach the highest levels of government.
The actions you have taken, the projects you have led, the organizations you have founded all focused on ensuring the recognition of women’s rights, including the power they have to decide for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.
Your efforts have ensured that Aboriginal and northern women are considered full partners in the decision‑making process.
I recently returned from a State visit to Norway, where I travelled to Tromsø, over 400 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
And there, I organized a dialogue between Sami leaders and Canadian Aboriginal leaders.
It is clear that the North is at the heart of the issues we are facing today, from the effects of climate change within the region, to the development of its abundant natural resources, to the preservation of the way of life of its peoples, and to the importance of focusing on building healthy, sustainable and viable communities and on providing new opportunities and hope to youth by investing in education.
And it is my firm belief that the peoples of the North hold the key to finding the solutions and must be included. Because they know better than anyone the lands and waters that have ensured their survival. Because they know the secrets that lay hidden from the rest of us.
I believe that the development of the North cannot take place without you, the peoples who inhabit that land, and certainly cannot take place to your detriment, but rather with you and with a focus on inclusion, preservation and sustainability.
I am eager to head back north of 60 and to celebrate with the communities of Nunavut 10 years of self-governance and achievement.
Although the challenges are enormous, extraordinary things are happening in the North, things we hear far too little about in the South.
The time has come for the South to hear news from the North more often, not only about its challenges and difficulties, but also about its accomplishments, its dynamism, its knowledge, its potential, its cultural contribution, and it is in this spirit that my northern journey will take place in nine communities: Rankin Inlet, Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Resolute, Pond Inlet, Clyde River, Pangnirtung, Iqaluit, and Kuujjuaq.
My husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, and our daughter, Marie‑Éden, will also be undertaking this journey.
We will be meeting with children and youth, who account for the vast majority of the northern population, to learn about their dreams, confident in their potential.
We will also be meeting with elders, the keepers of a timeless wisdom and heritage.
And with the women and men who fill the North with their ideas and hopes.
Georges Erasmus, Bertha Allen, you have created a shockwave in our society and have brought about lasting and profound changes to the way people think.
You have helped to put the North back on the map of Canada. The North that makes up the largest part of our territory.
For your commitment, for your daring, for your persistence, I thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
May you continue to be those energy and light particles that illuminate our way with their wisdom and set out the path to a new and brilliant future.