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Speech delivered by President and CEO Stuart Murray to l'Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba, July 13, 2012

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Je vous remercie de m'avoir invité à cette célébration. C'est un grand plaisir pour moi d'être ici avec vous. J'aimerais vous exprimer ma plus sincère gratitude pour votre intérêt dans le Musée canadien pour les droits de la personne.

Merci Monsieur Savoie.

Thank you for the Blessing Monseigneur LeGatt.

The Honourable Philip Lee, Senatrice Chaput, Councillor Vandal, Monsieur Lagacé (President of the Historial Society of St. Boniface), Monsieur Dufault (President of l'Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba).

Those of us gathered here this evening may pause to wonder if Louis Riel could have imagined this. For that matter, could that small group who first gathered just south of here at the home of M. St. Germain in July of 1877 ever have imagined that such a crowd would be gathered in another millennium to honour and celebrate their vision? Could those original members of l'Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba, ever have imagined that successive generations of Métis people would embrace their message of unity, pride and resilience with the same spirit that gave life to this organization 125 years ago?

Today we gather to salute that founding vision, just as we gather to reflect on the remarkable history of an organization whose roots run as deep as those of our province. In fact, many of those roots run even deeper. We gather today to look back, yes, but also forward. We remind ourselves of a notion the founders of l'Union métisse certainly embraced all those years ago: Our work today will affect the generations who follow us. L'Union métisse teaches us that if we set the right example, it's just possible those lessons may live on more than a century later. Build the foundation right, and it's possible that we leave something not only for our own children to build upon, but their children too.

In the same spirit in which l'Union métisse was founded, we gather today to imagine the possibility; the possibility of what we can create when we embrace the universal ideals that point the way to a better future for those who will inherit the world we leave them. The theme of unity on which this weekend's events are centered remains as relevant now as it was in the summer of 1877. As CEO of Canada's new museum for human rights, it's both inspiring and humbling to begin to contemplate how the work we do today at the museum may be regarded 125 years from now.

Today, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is a young organization. For my own children and theirs, for all our children, it's my deepest wish that future generations will be able to look back on the path we are charting at the Museum today and know that the decisions we made were the right ones.

L'Union métisse chose a path of dignified conviction, principle and perseverance and is only stronger 125 years later. No organization would be unwise in following a similar trail. In my view, the lessons of your longevity go further still. We recognize that a vital aspect of the work of l'Union métisse has been to nourish an understanding and celebration of identity. Yours is an organization that has inspired successive generations of Métis people to derive a sense of purpose and pride from who they are. That l'Union métisse remains a vibrant organization after 125 years is testament to the enduring, universal value of knowing who you are; being proud of who you are; and understanding that it is a basic right to be able to celebrate one's identity and culture without fear of facing barriers outside that culture. This is a universal lesson, and it is one organizations like the Canadian Museum for Human Rights must draw from. 

The genesis of our celebration today originates with the conviction 125 years ago that identity itself is a living thing; something that must be tended and nurtured should we hope to see it flourish and grow. When a person today says, "I am Métis," contained in that statement is a 125-year journey to foster a deep personal sense of meaning and pride. The statement today captures an historical richness; it captures a respect for the importance of knowing who we are and from where we came.

In 1888, the founders of l'Union nationale métisse Saint-Joseph du Manitoba drafted a constitution that set out their vision for the children of the Métis Nation. That constitution included a goal, and it's worth reading here: "Le but de la société est de resserrer les liens d'amitiés qui unissent déjà les enfants de la nation Métisse du Manitoba; de leur donner les avantages qui résultent généralement de la société; de leur permettre de se connaître, de s'apprécier davantage par un échange plus fréquent des rapports de la vie; d'affirmer davantage la vitalité de la nation Métisse."

Strengthening the ties of friendship among children of the Métis Nation; ensuring they can enjoy the rights and privileges others enjoy.

There is a wonderfully elegant, timeless simplicity to this aspiration. Would we not wish the same for our own children even today?

What kind of country would Canada be if we were to broaden "children of the Métis nation" to "all of Canada's children," and then committed ourselves to building a country that genuinely lives by the spirit of that aspiration? It is part of our work at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to ask that question. And then to go further by asking: What is the identity of the Canadian nation that we together aspire to build? What are the aspirational ideals we wish the word 'Canadian' to convey and to symbolize?

Canada has historically struggled with these issues of national identity in part because we've never formalized a cohesive discussion about how best to resolve them. Where we've had the discussion, it's often focused more on what we are not; namely, that as Canadians we are not American. But what does it mean to identify as Canadian? What should it mean? Can the term "Canadian" encapsulate a distinct sense of belonging where differences in identity are embraced and all children have access to the same rights, privileges and opportunities?

Le Canada a apporté plusieurs contributions à l'avancement international des droits de la personne, et comme nation, on peut être fier. Pourtant le Canada n'a pas un dossier sans taches, en matière de droits de la personne, et nous avons l'obligation envers la génération actuelle et les suivantes de regarder le passé bien en face et d'apprendre de nos erreurs.

The Métis Nation has found an enduring unity in having sought to resolve these challenging issues of identity many generations ago. Canada must borrow these lessons of finding ways to bridge distinct cultures and in doing so cultivate a respect for all of its many cultures. This is the essential foundation to developing the sense of unity needed to dismantle the artificial barriers that continue to limit the opportunity of too many of Canada's citizens, and ultimately, hold Canada back from reaching its fullest potential.

We gather here today because we recognize that the founding vision of l'Union métisse holds broad relevance even today. Is it then similarly the case that part of the answer to some of Canada's most pressing contemporary challenges around identity, inclusion, understanding and opportunity may be found in the Métis teachings of our past? We at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights certainly welcome the possibility.

Some have suggested that the foundation of the institutions and ideas with which Canadians most closely identify and celebrate today are as much Aboriginal in origin as they are European. We all seek harmony and balance and wish to see our nation as an inclusive, egalitarian place. We do not have a common understanding, as a people, of the Indigenous heritage that has in so many ways, shaped our nation.

Canadians who come to visit their new human rights museum will arrive at their own conclusions about the future Canada must build for itself, but they will certainly find the stories of Canada's Métis people well told within the Museum's walls. It's my suspicion our visitors will draw both lessons and inspiration from those stories. 

I think our visitors will find particular power in these stories for two reasons. The first, and most important, is that there is an authenticity to the stories we share at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and it's an authenticity that comes from avoiding the paternalistic, colonial approach to Indigenous content that museums historically have at times been guilty of. First Nations and Métis content at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights has been directly shaped by First Nations and Métis people. At every stage. For many reasons, this is far better than simply appropriating content, but it will ultimately mean a distinctive authenticity, richness and power to the stories our visitors encounter. Moreover, we want to see this approach ultimately lead to a decolonization of the way western museums explore Aboriginal culture.

Second, visitors to the Museum will find inspiration in the tools the Museum will use to share these stories. The celebrations tonight and this weekend remind us just how integral music and art are to Métis culture. There are so many artists here this evening, and it's remarkable the way you've given a distinctive contemporary flavour to artistic and musical traditions that originated so many generations ago. Music and art are ingrained in the identity of Métis people, and so the Métis stories told at the Museum must reflect this. I am certain there is no person in this room unfamiliar with this quote: "My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back." 

Visitors to the Museum will find that these words resonate in the Museum's Indigenous gallery. Fittingly, that gallery will use art to explore Indigenous concepts of humanity, of rights, and will offer a full picture of how human rights are understood from a holistic perspective. It's perhaps also fitting that the Museum's curators envision an exhibit that tells the story of Métis rights to be a piece of art itself.

I think it's also important to make clear that while a major gallery within the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is dedicated solely to the stories of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples, visitors to the Museum will find that Indigenous content appears in every gallery of the Museum. This is a very deliberate decision, and it again reflects this idea that an Indigenous identity is directly intertwined in the identity of the whole of Canada. It's our hope that this act prompts Canadians to again ponder the question of where, as a nation, we come from, who we are, and where we should be going. Perhaps we will arrive at the conclusion that while we embrace and celebrate our differences, we nonetheless have more in common with one another than we may sometimes think.

As today's event reminds us, there is immense power in knowing who you are. As a country, as Canadians, we are perhaps still finding out. But let us find unity both in the conversation, and in the discovery. Le Musée sera plutôt un lieu où l'on allumera une flamme dans le cœur de tous ceux et celles qui franchiront nos portes. Le Musée canadien pour les droits de la personne est né de la conviction optimiste qu'un monde meilleur est possible. The Museum will be a place that lights a fire in the hearts of all who come through our doors. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights was born from an optimism that a better world is indeed possible. Perhaps the fruits of that effort will be recognized in a room much like this one many years from now.

Thank you. Merci. Meegwetch.