Releasing Potential for Achievement: Polishing Canada's Beacon to the World
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 2 Dec 2004, p. 108-120
Jamieson, Roberta, Speaker
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Where we are in regard to Canada's relationship with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people - we're stuck. A very compressed view of history. What happened in 1982 with regard to Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada's patriated Constitution. The parliamentary task force on Indian self-government. The Penner Report. Optimism that faded to gloom in the last half of the 1980s. The chilling storm of Oka. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. New hope. Then - no action. One place we have moved forward. The mandate of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. Examples of achievement and potential to contribute. Ways to get "unstuck." A plea to the audience to help the Foundation. An example of the kind of project in which the Foundation is engaged. What could be done. Our responsibility.
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2 Dec 2004
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Full Text
Roberta Jamieson
Chief, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and CEO, National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation
Chairman: Bart J. Mindszenthy
President, The Empire Club of Canada
Head Table Guests

Kamal Hassan, Director, The South-East Asia Group, Micro Venture Capitalist and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Jinty Smith, Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute; Reverend Andrew Wesley, Toronto Urban Native Ministry; Grant McLeod, a Metis from Winnipeg, a recent graduate from the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto and currently articling and a recipient of scholarships from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation throughout his academic career; Dr. Caroline Makar, Chiropractor and Traditional Healer; Chief Sharon Stinson-Henry, Chief, Mnjikaning First Nation; Verity Craig, Principal, Carmichael Birrell & Co. and Director, The Empire Club of Canada; Suzanne Rochon-Burnett, proud Metis Broadcaster, Businesswoman and still Aboriginal Activist; and Charles Coffey, Executive Vice-President, Government Affairs, RBC Financial Group and 3rd Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada.

Introduction by Bart Mindszenthy

Ladies and gentlemen, when my father was 10 years old--and this was just around 1915 in Hungary--he and his friends stripped naked, painted their faces in assorted colours, created traditional head coverings from feathers, built small axes and bows and arrows, and attacked a train. They actually blocked the tracks and attacked the train.

They were promptly arrested. But they lived out this fantasy that so many Europeans had and many still have--the romanticism of the native North American. My father wanted to replicate what he'd learned through the books he had read and stories he had heard.

Seventy years later, my father and I started hunting each fall with Barney Oldfield and some of his family and friends in the area of Perry Island in Georgian Bay. Barney was from the Ojibway nation, and we spent many hours with him and his family during each week of the hunting seasons.

My father learned firsthand that the romanticism of his youth may have been a fond memory, but certainly not reality.

We Canadians have learned so much since those distant years of my father's childhood era. We have learned many difficult lessons from many regretful experiences. And I hope we have learned to be more mindful and respectful of each other.

First Nations peoples call that "keeping a good mind." Respecting fellow human beings and the environment around us. Taking the high road.

Today, we welcome a woman who has always taken the high road, who looks toward the future and what is possible without getting mired down with what was or couldn't be.

Roberta Jamieson is Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory for only a few more days. She has been appointed Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, a position she has already assumed.

Chief Jamieson's own achievements, accomplishments and acknowledgements are a tribute to her passion, vision and resolve. If I were to list them all, and all her "firsts," I think we wouldn't have time to hear her remarks.

But of course, I must share just a few.

Chief Jamieson was the first Aboriginal woman in Canada to earn a law degree in 1976 and has since gone on to be awarded 12 honorary doctorates.

She was the first non-parliamentarian appointed to a House of Commons committee and the first Aboriginal commissioner of the Indian Commission of Ontario.

She was the first woman to be appointed Ombudsman for the Province of Ontario.

She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1994, and in 1998 received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, which is the Aboriginal community's highest honour.

She was founding chair of imagineNative, the annual international media arts festival.

She is the first woman chief to head the Six Nations of the Grand River, which also happens to be Canada's most populous reserve.

She is a wife, mother and grandmother.

She is amazing.

Chief Jamieson, Saygo.

Roberta Jamieson

Sehkon! Skeno! Bonjour! Good Afternoon!

Well it's coming up to wintertime, and Canadians are really familiar--perhaps all too familiar--with the winter phenomenon. Sometimes, despite all our careful driving, we get stuck. No matter how much the driver goes back and forth, no matter how much the wheels spin, we stay stuck--no movement in any direction. Canadians know when the moment has arrived when we all have to get out and push together. Sometimes it doesn't take very much; sometimes it takes just one more shoulder to nudge before our vehicle is able to move ahead.

Well that's where we are in regard to Canada's relationship with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples. We're stuck.

You can see what happened in a very compressed view of history. Initially there was great collaboration and co-operation amongst our peoples. The Six Nations history, alone, is an integral part of the reason why Canada is Canada. Other Aboriginal people across Canada have made their own contributions to this country--economically, socially and scientifically. The fur trade was essentially an enterprise of indigenous peoples working with European organizations. Our hunting knowledge and skill supplied that enterprise and made it possible. Our skills and expertise on land and waters made the transportation system work. And our medicines restored all of our peoples to health.

And then, however, the partnership and alliance came to a bit of an end. We were pushed aside as unwanted elements in someone else's vision of what was then called a British Canada, free of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people. And that is the way it was for about a century.

Until, I would suggest to you, 1982. Remember that year? It was a very exciting year for me, for us, for Canada. That was the year that Canada decided to revive the old working relationship by recognizing and affirming the Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada's patriated Constitution.

We were so hopeful, so happy! We felt, as we all do, on that first day of springtime when the warmth returns and the birds sing and the grass turns green and everybody is smiling. We feel optimistic, productive, ready to do things and go places. That's the way we felt in 1982.

Another event added to our confidence that we were in a new era. And it's been mentioned a bit already. The House of Commons set up a parliamentary task force on Indian self-government chaired by one Member of Parliament, Keith Penner. As a sign that a new relationship was surely coming, Parliament for the first time appointed one of our people--and it happened to be me--to sit and study this matter.

After a year of hearings, the task force made its recommendations in a document known still today as "the Penner Report." The report remarkably was accepted by all political parties. Can you believe it? All political parties. The government tabled a glowing response in the spring of 1984. At the same time, we were all in a series of constitutional meetings and nationally televised First Ministers' conferences. Prime ministers were involved from two different parties, as well as provincial and territorial leaders. I was in charge of the Assembly of First Nations legal team in those days.

A third wave of new warm winds of change and renewed hope after a long, long winter came with the Supreme Court of Canada decisions starting in 1984 with Guerin, Sparrow, Sioui reaffirming our place in Canada. The court in its decision knew what we knew in our hearts: that as contemporary people in Canada, we bring our identity and our rights into Canada's future as the First People.

In the last half of the 1980s however, the optimism faded to gloom. The First Ministers' conferences wound down with no agreement and dashed hope. The Penner Report was ignored as if it had never happened--a roadmap for a trip, which is yet to be taken. As rapidly as the Supreme Court reaffirmed our rights, government geared up to find new ways to deny us the very rights the Supreme Court was reaffirming, the very rights the Constitution had recognized.

Our initial optimism waned in those days; it was as if we had been fooled by the promise of a January thaw and we were back into the depths of unremitting winter. We realized we were still stuck, stuck in a huge snowbank of mushy outdated ideas rooted pretty firmly in colonialism. Everybody was thrashing about, everybody pushing on all sides in all directions at once, each with an idea about how to get "unstuck." Some wanted to do away with reserves, some said we needed special institutions of government, some wanted government to just get out of the way.

In the dismay and frustration which followed the realization that a decade of promise had turned into a decade of illusion, the chilling storm of Oka shocked and surprised Canada. "What is it that those people want anyway?" was the public reaction.

A Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was mandated to answer that question and also to provide practical recommendations on how to move forward. Well, warm hopeful springtime winds were felt again. Our confidence was renewed as well when Nunavut was created in this country. In 1996, the royal commission reported with a very practical 20-year plan. The commissioners who had been involved in it were remarkable Canadians--a former judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, a judge from the Quebec Court of Appeals, a former provincial premier and a number of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit leaders. Several hundred recommendations were made on how Canada could get unstuck and re-establish a productive relationship with the First Peoples.

Well what happened next? Nothing.

A bureaucratically designed response called "Gathering Strength" virtually ignored the royal commission's report. Canadians had spent $60 million on that report. The then-Minister of Indian Affairs said that nothing more was to be done because the recommendations had already been implemented. Well we remained stuck and Canada remained stuck. The health conditions continued to deteriorate, the education gap widened, the shameful housing needs--as the current Prime Minister acknowledges--continued to worsen.

This is, as I said, the compressed view of history that brings us to today, a history of a promising relationship that somehow got stuck, and today persists as a forgotten challenge at the beginning of this new century and a new millennium. I believe we will remain stuck as long as First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples are seen as a "problem" rather than an opportunity.

The only place where we have moved forward is where our people have taken control from design to administration--and that only happens when we have the wherewithal to be free of other peoples, most notably government's control: I cite James Bay; I cite what's going on with Inuvialuit; I cite Nunavut. Where Aboriginal entrepreneurs have found the capital to start new businesses, for example, they are successful and are one of the most rapidly growing sectors in Canada today.

I am here today in at least two capacities. I am still the Chief for a couple more days of the Grand River Territory so I see these things through a different lens. I didn't seek re-election and later, in about two days, my successor will take over with his ambitious agenda. And I have taken on a new role, a very exciting one, as Chief Executive Officer of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation.

The foundation has an exciting mandate and that's why I took this on. And I'll share more about that in a bit. It is placed, poised and charged with helping First Nations, Métis and Inuit people in this country to realize our potential--as individuals and communities--and to convert our potential and aspirations into reality, into change, so that we can contribute, not only to the betterment of our own communities, but to the country as a whole. This help that the foundation gives is made possible by the unwavering support of our partners, our sponsors, corporate and public, and individuals, many of whom are represented here today.

In the role I've taken on, the key word is "achievement" because behind all our struggles for survival over the centuries in Canada to this day, First Nations, Inuit and Métis have sought to protect our rights and defend our interests. But also to move on. We have demonstrated throughout our history that our goal is simple: to have a better life for our children, our grandchildren and future generations. We have always sought to achieve and to contribute. We are seeking nothing less and nothing different today.

But you know what is holding us back. Let me talk about that because I don't think we know much about the history of our country and our people. Did you know that in the early part of the 20th century, any First Nations person who became a lawyer, minister, or graduated from university was subject to Involuntary Enfranchisement and had to sign away their identity as First Peoples? That is a powerful barrier. I'm not the first Aboriginal woman to get a law degree because I'm brilliant.

And our people have so much to contribute--so much talent, ability, creativity, intelligence and energy. And yet across Canada, one of the results of the long winter I have described is that much of that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit potential remains unrealized and unrecognized--and I would go further to say that in some places it is even rejected.

So many of our children, our youth, our women, our men and our elders lack opportunity, lack resources and lack an environment that nourishes their success or celebrates when they achieve it. So many of our people cannot contribute because they are on a permanent waiting list. In just our own Six Nations last year, to put a real face on it, 200 of our students who were accepted into university or college could not go because they didn't have the financial wherewithal to get there.

Our people across Canada have become the poorest of the poor and are dealing with the conditions that rank us amongst the least developed nations in the world on the UN Human Development index, while Canada is in the very top ranks. From my point of view, we're not going to be successful if we try to get unstuck by spinning the wheels in the same ruts that got us stuck in the first place.

We have to create space for our people to flourish as our people--as Inuit, as Métis, as First Nations. We have to recognize that this is going to take effort, just as it takes effort to get the stuck snowplow out of the snow bank, and it's going to take resources. But as the Royal Bank pointed out after the royal commission report was tabled, the "cost of doing nothing" will be much higher than the cost of doing the right thing at the right time, and that time is now; the clock is ticking.

If all of our children are to achieve, there have to be changes in the homes we live in, in the communities in which we are raised, in the schools we go to and the opportunities we have. And mostly I would say in the acceptance of our diversity and the special gifts we bring. I see working with others to create these changes just as important a role for the foundation as its role to raise funds for our students. It's a big challenge and one that at this time in my life I want to spend a lot of energy on. I see part of my work as channeling the vast goodwill that exists for the success in creating these changes.

I want to ask you today to join us. In short, I am asking you to recognize that we are stuck. And I'm asking you to help; it's time to get out and push. I want to explore with you the synergy and mutual benefit that can come from working together, each from our own position. I want to hone the foundation's ability to locate potential wherever it lies in our communities.

I believe in supporting youth; I also believe in supporting elders. I believe in supporting individuals; I also believe in supporting communities. I believe in supporting our scholars, our scientists--and we have them. But I also believe in supporting creative potential, healing, traditional knowledge and leadership. I want the foundation to increase our capacity to support at critical junctions. Is this something we could work on together?

The foundation has so much potential. Securing the future of our children, our Aboriginal children, must become a high priority in Canada--not something as an afterthought. I'm hopeful, but right now I think there are some realities we need to tackle.

At the present time, federal funding for our peoples is based simply on setting aside a piece of the big pie and then serving it. There is very little calculation of need in the mix--and many of us are just expected to make do on the size of the pie that is allocated. There is very little recognition that making space for our people to contribute will help make the pie bigger. I believe education is key.

I think this is something we can do together. I want the foundation to be among the leaders in ensuring that every one of our people can achieve and contribute. Indian Affairs tells us in this year's estimates, that the on-reserve population will increase by 53 per cent by the year 2021. That's an average of 15,000 additional children above the existing number. And how many classrooms are those children going to need? Five hundred. Are we planning for this growth, are we building these classrooms, are we ensuring the resources are available and the career paths and the opportunities? Are we seizing these opportunities? The Inuit population increases two-to-three times the Canadian average and the Métis increase appears to be even more.

We have not only a compelling opportunity, but I think a rather wonderful one to ensure that our children get the education and training they need. Let's remember after all, Canada's facing some pretty extreme shortages in human resources. Surely we can put this picture together. I believe our people can be an important part of the answer.

There is a job for all of us to do. Let me give you an example of the kind of project I've been working on recently. It's one idea. We call it 2020 Vision. I and the other co-chair, Roy Romanow, are dedicated to getting more Aboriginal physicians graduating in this country. If you look at Ontario alone, on an equitable basis, we should have about 374. We have maybe 12. We have maybe 150 nationally. We need to change that picture and it won't be changed easily, but it's doable. We did it for teachers; we did it for lawyers. When I graduated there were a handful of us, maybe 10 or 12. There are a thousand now.

Hard work, committed partners and some resources. We can do it and we're determined. It involves all of us--from parents making sure their students go to school, to the private sector working with us as partners and government--to change this picture. It involves all of our people, on reserves as well as in urban centres. We know that when we design, develop and deliver on programs and ideas that come from our people, we succeed. But when they are made in Ottawa, no matter how well intentioned or well funded they are, they seem to fail.

So, time to get out and push, people!

This is not the first time the Empire Club has pondered these questions, I know. Prime Minister Paul Martin was here just eight months ago and he told you that Aboriginal people are the youngest and fastest-growing segment of Canadian society. The Prime Minister also spoke of "potential untapped, promise unfulfilled." He too said we must make it possible for our people to achieve. He promised Canada would work to remove obstacles so opportunity can flourish. Time to get out and push, people. Time to help the Prime Minister with the non-partisan political support he needs if he is to deliver the political support we need to make the plan succeed.

That's where you come in--you with your own unique potential to influence and form public opinion. We must insist that Canada takes that leap from what has been a past we don't want to revisit onto a practical path for the future. A constructive one, a healthy one, a positive one. I believe it is the Canadian people, the Canadian private sector, who hold the key to change.

I do not accept what some of the polls are saying about Canadian attitudes toward First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples. It has been my experience that many Canadians are just lacking in good information, awareness, understanding, exposure to our people, witnessing our champions and our successes. I see some of them here today. We have many more.

Too many of our people feel helpless when they hear yet another report from the Auditor General telling us that the gaps are widening and not closing. We feel paralyzed and we can't move. When Canadians are more aware, when they start to realize the contributions that our people have made historically to Canada, when they become aware of the contributions we make today and that we're poised to make in the future, we find great support and great energy.

One of the Original Instructions to the People of the Six Nations at the beginning of our time on this earth was that when we make decisions, we should think of more than just our own interests in making them. We were taught to go beyond even the interests of children and grandchildren. Our leaders were to ask, "What is it that we must do to provide a place for the seventh generation after us, whose faces are in the distance we can still see coming toward us?" It was a powerful standard against which we can measure the decisions and actions we are taking today. It is a heavy responsibility but one on which we, their ancestors, will be judged by that seventh generation.

It will be such a tragedy for both our people and the Canadian people if we do not work together for our seventh generations--yours and mine, all children of our Mother Earth, all brothers and sisters in the Creation. I believe that together we can make space for First Peoples to take their rightful place in Canada and Canada will be deemed rich because of it. Our people want to become rightful and rich contributors, as problem solvers, as economic players, as leaders, as healers and valuable partners. That is our responsibility.

It is time to get us unstuck, friends!

It is time to stop spinning the wheels, and time to get out and push.

With your help, I know we can get moving and back on the road again.

I invite you to join me and the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. Let's make some real change in releasing some of that vast reservoir of potential that lies with the First Peoples of Canada.

I believe the Achievement Foundation provides all of us with an opportunity to bring together the government, the private sector, Aboriginal and personal resources that we need so our nations and our people can realize their potential. Nothing less than Canada's future depends upon and will benefit from this success.

Thank you for listening to my words today. May you find yourselves in health, and we thank all of our elders, our children and our relations.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Charles Coffey, Executive Vice-President, Government Affairs, RBC Financial Group and 3rd Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Releasing Potential for Achievement: Polishing Canada's Beacon to the World

Where we are in regard to Canada's relationship with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people - we're stuck. A very compressed view of history. What happened in 1982 with regard to Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada's patriated Constitution. The parliamentary task force on Indian self-government. The Penner Report. Optimism that faded to gloom in the last half of the 1980s. The chilling storm of Oka. The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. New hope. Then - no action. One place we have moved forward. The mandate of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation. Examples of achievement and potential to contribute. Ways to get "unstuck." A plea to the audience to help the Foundation. An example of the kind of project in which the Foundation is engaged. What could be done. Our responsibility.