Statement made on 12 June 2008 by Mary Simon, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami
Mary Simon, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami:
senators, ladies and gentlemen, Senator Watt and Senator Adams, yesterday's
event will go down in history. The Inuit of Canada, whose families, communities
and culture was shattered by the residential school system, received this
apology with great relief. Today is not a time for looking back. As I said
yesterday in the House of Commons, a new day has dawned. Today, we should work
together and look forward.
I woke up this morning with a new sense of optimism, even though I did not
sleep that well. My thoughts were of old battles, some won and some lost. Your
colleague, Senator Watt, and I were old warriors together. Some 35 years ago,
we fought Goliath and achieved the historic James Bay
and Northern Quebec Agreement. For many years, we Inuit have watched Senator
Adams speak in this chamber on our behalf. Thank you, Charlie; and thank you,
[Editor's Note: Ms. Simon spoke in Inuktitut]
I also want to thank honourable senators for including Inuktitut as an
official language in the fall as a pilot project. I think that is wonderful.
As young Inuit, we were full of anger sometimes, but we also had a vision
infused by our people of who they had been and what they could be again. Here
we are today, certainly older, and hopefully wiser. I know that changes take
place, energy and patience, and heaven knows we have been patient.
I am here to tell you that it is our time. The magnitude of yesterday's
historic apology and request for forgiveness will be measured in the future
actions of government. Much of our past relationship with government has been
diminished by unfulfilled promises. Our Inuit in positions of authority and
influence now have the responsibility to build on this offer of a new
relationship. Government now has the responsibility to dedicate energy and
creativity in framing this new relationship with us based on respect for who we
are, our traditions, history, language and culture. We must be in the room
working together with government to build this new relationship.
Gone are the days when policy or legislative initiatives were invoked for us.
The Prime Minister, on behalf of Canada and Canadians, also asked us
for forgiveness. As individuals, we will make our own choice in that regard. As
leader of the organization representing the Inuit of Canada, I believe that
real and lasting forgiveness must be earned. It will be forthcoming only when
it is clear that government is willing to act.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister said:
The burden of this experience has been on your shoulders for far too long.
The burden is properly ours as a Government, and as a country.
Restoring dignity, self-worth, confidence and hope for the future will be no
easy task, and we know that. It will be more difficult for those Inuit, for
example, in Nunatsiavut who suffered the same indignities as other victims of
that cruel system and yet are excluded from the settlement agreement, and
unjustly so. I asked the Prime Minister yesterday to reconsider this decision
and allow these Inuit victims to embrace this apology fully. Support their
healing as well. I call upon senators and the spirit of human justice that
reigns in this chamber to prevail.
Let my people, wherever they are located in Canada, who have been excluded from
the settlement agreement for reasons that have nothing to do with human
justice, into the healing process. Let them into the settlement agreement.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission will be an important process for
supporting the restoration of our dignity and self-worth, but the process does
not end there. Canada must
commit to the development and support of policies and long-term programs that
are needed to restore our families and rebuild our sense of community and our
place in Canada.
In the case of Inuit, we are well positioned to do just that. All our Inuit
regions have achieved comprehensive modern-day land claims agreements. These
agreements are constitutionally protected treaties between the Inuit and the
Government of Canada, and have formed the basis of a foundation relationship
with the Government of Canada.
We also live in a region of Canada
that is at the centre of many of Canada's immediate and looming
challenges: climate change, hydrocarbon development and sovereignty, to name
the most evident. Meeting and addressing these challenges will take commitment
and human and financial resources. It will require that we all take
responsibility to contribute what we can, individually and collectively. We
need robust and sustainable Northern communities. We need a healthy, confident
and educated Inuit population. We need to reinvigorate our language and
traditions. Let us now move forward together.
I repeat what I said yesterday: I stand ready to work honestly and
energetically with government. I will watch the actions of government closely.
Today and tomorrow, let us together, as First Peoples of this great country,
arm in arm with the legislators of Canada, rejoice. Rest during this
weekend. Be assured that the work starts next week, but we can say that work
will begin together in collaboration and in the spirit of forging a future for
all of us together.