Time to Acknowledge Debt to Native Peoples

By LeBlanc, Romeo | Canadian Speeches, March 1996 | Go to article overview

Time to Acknowledge Debt to Native Peoples


LeBlanc, Romeo, Canadian Speeches


Winners of the Award, Distinguished Guests, Mr. John Kim Bell.

Today we honor nine persons as Role Models for Canada's native communities. These nine have diverse careers, whether as educators or artists or athletes or volunteers or healers. But all have won recognition from their own communities as models of commitment, dedication, and hard work.

Now these nine will undertake a mission to other native communities across Canada, to help them rediscover their heritage and their health. On behalf of all Canadians, I wish them every success.

The Role Models follow the seven native traditions of wisdom, truth, honesty, love, respect, bravery, and humility. Many Canadians outside the Aboriginal community would like to think that we share some of the same attitudes.

We speak of Canada as a young and growing country, and in many respects that is true. Confederation reaches back only four or five generations. John Cabot and Jacques Cartiers landed here less than 5,000 years ago, and the Vikings less than a thousand years ago. But the aboriginal founding nations were here 10,000 years ago.

Our French and English pioneers came to a populated continent. The First Nations greeted us with generosity and friendship, according to their spiritual beliefs and way of life. From them we learned the medicines, the food and clothing we needed for survival; we learned to use their canoes, snowshoes, and toboggans, for transport; and we learned from them the rivers and waterways that took us into the heart of the continent.

Those Europeans who took the time to observe native societies described a culture of consensus, co-operation, and sharing. In aboriginal eyes, greatness came not from taking but from giving.

Yet those who gave us the key to Canada found the door closed to them at Confederation. Those who healed and guided us were sometimes sickened and led astray. Often our schools brought them not enlightenment but darkness. Members of ancient cultures based on sharing and respect for elders found themselves with the smallest share and the least respect.

Many Aboriginal persons have now succeeded in the new society that flooded their land; but many others have lost their way. …

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