By Cheryl May
In a voice that resonated with wisdom, strength and, above all, hope, Roberta Jamieson shared her vision for a Canada that embraces and includes the Indigenous Peoples of this land in her keynote address at the CRRF’s Our Canada Symposium, held November 2014 in Ottawa.
Roberta Jamieson is a Mohawk woman from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario, where she still resides. Her many accomplishments include many firsts – being the first First Nations woman to earn a law degree; the first non-parliamentarian appointed an ex-officio member of a House of Commons Committee; the first female Ombudsman of Ontario; and the first woman elected Chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
She has earned numerous awards, including the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (Law and Justice 1998); the Indigenous Peoples Council Award, which is the Indigenous Bar Association's highest award; and the Council of Ontario Universities' 2014 David C. Smith Award, as well as 22 honorary degrees. She has been named three times to the Women's Executive Network's Top 100 list. She is a Member of the Order of Canada. She serves on the board of directors of Ontario Power Generation and the Elections Canada Advisory Board.
In 2004, Roberta became a champion for enriching Canada through Indigenous education. As the President and CEO of Indspire, Canada’s premier Indigenous-led charity, and Executive Producer of the Indspire Awards, a nationally broadcast gala honouring Indigenous achievement, she is a powerful visionary who gives voice to a new generation.
It is not easy to speak or hear about the wrongs that have been committed against Aboriginal Peoples, but Roberta Jamieson does that with mastery and authenticity.
She tells a difficult and painful story. She puts forward a cathartic vision that Canadians can work together to make a difference for future generations.
Roberta sees Canada’s positive focus on diversity as rooted in the very first pact between Aboriginal Peoples and Europeans – the Two Row Wampum Treaty of 1614. That treaty, and others that followed, described a land of peaceful coexistence where different peoples could keep their own identities while following their own paths.
Now is the time to remember and reclaim that original promise.
“All persons today who make up Canada … are a part of the original Indigenous vision of a diverse Canada, where there is room to be shared with all children of our mother the earth, who want to share in that dream. Our task is, together, in our lifetimes, to restore Canada to its original promise of being a ‘Two Row Wampum Nation,’ a place where each diverse individual, each diverse group, has the opportunity and freedom to make their distinct contribution to Canada and the world. Each of us…has a role to play in making that original promise good.”
The way forward involves healing and education. It starts with forgiveness.
“My hope is we will forgive others and forgive ourselves, and that we will turn our minds to building the Canada envisioned in the early days of settlement, to build the Canada people dreamed of when they decided to adopt our lands as their homes.”
Those present were visibly moved by Roberta’s powerful message. Her keynote speech not only launched conversations that took place during the Symposium, but the thousands that will continue on. Infused with enthusiasm and enriched by the knowledge that Roberta brought to them, Symposium participants shared Roberta’s vision.
“I joined the rest of the symposium audience in rising to applaud Ms. Jamieson at the conclusion of her moving and powerful remarks about how our very particular Canadian approach to diversity and social inclusion is rooted in the early, negotiated relationships between the Indigenous Nations in Canada and European settlers, and how that relationship has been compromised over the years. Her closing comments particularly resonated with me, calling on each of us to recognize our personal responsibility as ancestors to future, seven unborn generations – our great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren – and to rededicate ourselves to ‘Canada’s original promise’ by taking action to ensure every individual in Canada can fully participate and make their own distinct contribution. Jamieson concluded by stating, ‘Our future generations have every right to expect that we will take up the responsibility of putting our minds together to improve the lives of our children.’ There is no greater responsibility and no greater legacy.”
– Robert A. Philp, Queen’s Counsel, Chief of the Commission and Tribunals, Alberta Human Rights Commission
Watch a short clip of Roberta Jamieson's keynote address at the CRRF's Symposium in Ottawa in November 2014.
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