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The Unveiling of an Inuksuk at Rideau Hall

Rideau Hall
Saturday, June 21, 1997

I thank Kananginak Pootoogook, both for his warm words and for his art. And I thank all of you for being here today, especially those of you in the native community.

You all know that stone figures like this have stood in the Arctic for thousands of years. And I dream that this one will stand here for thousands more.

It is appropriate that we have unveiled this inuksuk on National Aboriginal Day, a day of honour and celebration for First Nations, M├ętis, and Inuit. And I would like to thank all those who helped bring this work of art to us.

MDS Nordion contributed through the Canadiana Fund, as did the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. In addition, First Air, Mr. Norman Hallendy, and the National Capital Commission gave important help, and I thank them all.

This week has also seen the rebirth of another work of art, and I thank the artist, Richard Hunt, of B.C. He repainted a totem pole which his grandfather, the renowned Mungo Martin, gave to my predecessor Governor General Alexander. And we have moved that totem pole to a better place for viewing, near here.

I would also note the presence of James Houston, who helped to make the world aware of Inuit art.

People have been so kind that I have still more thank-you's. For National Aboriginal Day, we are going to have lots of entertainment and activities. All this was helped along by the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, the Canadian Lacrosse Association, and Air Inuit.

Ladies and gentlemen, I got an early look at this inuksuk when the artist was here three weeks ago. I told him that this figure not only looked human, it looked rather hard-headed.

He said: "Yes, but when you talk, it won't argue back." So I'm grateful for that.

An inuksuk is silent, but they have always carried a message. And they have done so for a very long time.

It is five hundred years since John Cabot first landed on our Atlantic coast. Soon it will be a thousand years since the Vikings landed in Newfoundland. But when they landed, you the first peoples had already been here for more than ten thousand years.

The myths, the legends, and the art of the native peoples all reflect the spiritual depth that they developed over the centuries.

The keynote of aboriginal culture was to share with one another. And perhaps that generosity grew from the challenge of our northern land.

For you, the aboriginal peoples, to survive and to flourish in this climate, with few tools except your own ingenuity, constitutes one of the great epics of history.

In spite of all the frustrations, in spite of all your disappointments, today I would point to the signs of hope.

I am one who believes that more and more Canadians are finding a spirit of recognition and of reconciliation towards native peoples. In every region of this country, when I call for personal contacts and exchanges between natives and non-natives, I get a good reception.

The native peoples who met the challenges of past millennia will also master the new society, through education, through organization, and through a growing confidence.

I mentioned earlier that an inuksuk often points the way home.

Last year, on the first National Aboriginal Day, I was at Hay River in the Northwest Territories, with members of the Dene Nation. We celebrated around the fire, we talked about their hopes for their children, and when an eagle circled above us, we took that as a good omen.

Today, I hope this stone figure may also become a sign of hope for the future. And I believe that one day, natives and non-natives, your children and mine, will be equally at home in the heart of our country.

Updated: 1997-06-21
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