Opening of the DIASPORArt Exhibit
Rideau Hall, Monday, September 21, 2009
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I am a woman in whom many cultures and identities co-exist.
On the island of Haiti where I was born, there were approximately one million Aboriginal inhabitants before the arrival of the Europeans. They were Taino, Arawak and Carib. They are our first nations, on the island of Haiti. They are my ancestors.
My ancestors also came from Africa, forcibly transported to this side of the Atlantic, where they were reduced to slavery. It was in Haiti where, after enduring three centuries of dehumanizing trade, the slaves were the first to break their chains.
And as it happens, I also have Acadian roots, on my mother’s side.
As you are undoubtedly aware, during the Deportation, also known as the “Great Upheaval,” Acadians were split up, loaded onto ships and deported.
They were then scattered along the American coast, but many towns refused to let them in.
Some were shipped off to Europe, while hundreds of others set sail once again and emigrated to Saint-Domingue. And so the island became a French colony in the West Indies, later renamed Haiti, as it was originally called, when it achieved independence in 1804.
Cangé LeBlanc, father of my great-grandmother, Célia LeBlanc, was a descendant of those Acadians who arrived on the island in 1763.
It didn’t take long, once I had arrived in Canada, for me to see that I had come home.
I saw myself in the drums, songs, dances, languages and legends of the First Nations, Inuit and Metis, who share a kind of kinship, if you will, with those of the first peoples of the island of my birth.
I saw myself in the descendants of the slaves who had arrived here by way of the underground railroad and in their desire to help build a country based on the values of justice and freedom.
I saw myself in the resilience of the Acadians and their deep connection to their history, language and culture.
Having arrived one winter’s night in Quebec, the province that is the cradle of La Francophonie, a family to which I belong through language and heart, I put down my roots. And today, those roots reach right across Canada, a country I proudly represent as governor general.
You may be wondering why I have shared my history, my journey with you. Well, it is to show you that they are not so very unique in this country of such incredible diversity, as illustrated so beautifully by the DIASPORArt exhibit that we are launching this morning.
It is of that history and journey, at once unique and collective, that the Canadian artists taking part in this exhibit speak; artists from diverse cultural communities whose works have been provided by the Canada Council Art Bank collection.
These artists tells us of the blurred lines between our individual sense of belonging and our identities; of cultures colliding, which can give rise to renewal; of traditions and modernity, of myths and realities, of home and horizons, of journeys and roots, of close relationships and new encounters.
And they tell us that this interplay between the elements of who we are opens the door to fellowship, solidarity and understanding between us and within the extended human family.
It is therefore in the spirit of encounter and sharing that we present this exhibit to you, which I hope will be a resounding success.
Cultural diversity nurtures the identity and desire for expression of so many creative minds in Canada, and I would like to thank the Art Bank for enabling us to reflect with them on this vital component of Canadian reality and identity.