Boozhoo (Ojibwe [Anishinaabe])
Boa vinda (Portuguese)
Welcome everyone to Treaty 1 territory and to Winnipeg – my favourite city. I'm so glad you could join us for lunch today. Before I begin my remarks, I would like to acknowledge the presence of Winnipeg's Mayor Sam Katz. Sam –you have always been a strong supporter of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and we thank you for being here today, leading this City and for being a partner and friend of the Museum and of the tourism industry.
And it is my pleasure to thank our lunch sponsors and partners–
- Travel Manitoba led by Hubert Mesman and his team and
- Destination Winnipeg led by Marina James and her team. Thank you so much for sponsoring this lunch with us and for all the good work you do to promote this city and province.
I'd also like to extend a very special thanks to David Goldstein and his team at Tourism Industry Association of Canada for organizing what promises to be yet another wildly successful Rendez‐vous Canada! Let's give them all a hand everyone.
Michelle, thank you for introducing me – yes – I am the President and CEO of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights – that's definitely my day job. But those who know me well and know a little bit about my background also know that I am a musician and rock and roll enthusiast at heart.
I share this tidbit of information with you so that you'll understand why I open my remarks today with lyrics made famous by John Lennon on a Beatles classic single:
"You say you want a revolution, well you know, we all want to change the world".
These words of the 1960s of protest and defiance encapsulated the very mood – a time when being young meant being engaged. It was a time when men and women across North America found their voice and, in doing so, began to take a stand for what they believed. It was a time of both hope and defiance as tens of thousands of people took on the super powers with flower power – and, instead of guns, armed themselves with peace signs.
Last week the news media reminded us that forty years have passed since hundreds of students at Kent State University protested President Nixon's invasion of Cambodia. Their unarmed march was met with bullets from the Ohio National Guard and, in the end, several students were injured and four young lives perished – taking a stand for what they believed.
Shortly after the Kent State massacre a musical voice emerged– the bold voice of yet another rock and roller – who felt that he, too had to take a stand. Using music as his protest sign he used the pop charts to openly question the government's actions. You may remember his words:
"Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming; we're finally on our own;
This summer I hear the drumming; four dead in Ohio."
Rocker Neil Young managed to capture the anger and outrage of youth of the day; standing in defiance of the status quo and daring to call out a U.S. President in the lyrics of his song! He was censored by many radio stations and considered a traitor. It took guts to do what he did. Something we've come to expect from a Winnipegger like Neil.
We have a history here in Manitoba of taking a stand, passionately for what we believe. Winnipeg, in particular, has been the epicentre of some of the most progressive human rights revolutions that have resulted in a better country and, by example, a better world.
Right here on the banks of the Red and Assiniboine rivers where North American First Nations tribes first gathered thousands of years ago to resolve conflicts and negotiate peace agreements.
It was here, yes, right here.
Right here, Nellie McClung led women into a bold, artsy and satiric mock parliament that secured the right for women to vote in Canada.
Right here, Métis leader Louis Riel led the Red River Rebellion – and, in the process, secured French Language and Métis rights throughout Canada at the cost of his very own life.
Right here, thousands of workers, fed up with poor working conditions, organized North America's largest general strike. In the end, many were injured, and one person died – but workers rights were secured for this country and continue to flourish to this day.
It was here where people immigrated from all over the world looking for a better life – seeking freedom from persecution and oppression – freedom from poverty — drawn by Winnipeg's central location – our north‐south/ east‐west rivers converging – and our rich farm land. In the end, we became a North American centre of immigration, trade, and commerce.
Welcome to Winnipeg; the world's epicentre for numerous human rights revolutions. Right here, our past triumphs serve to define us, our historical heroes serve to inspire us – but it's the future that motivates us.
Because, even thousands of years later — we still want to change the world.
And yes, right here we now have a new way to do it — the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
Much like our other human rights triumphs – the road to the creation of this Museum was not an easy one. It took one Winnipegger, Israel Asper, to take a stand and start a revolution right here in Canada – changing the way national museums are created and utilized.
His crusade ultimately captured the imaginations of thousands and the result is that this is the first national museum in Canada to be built outside of our capital of Ottawa: the first national Museum to be built with such significant private sector support; and the first national museum in Canada to be centred around a cause – not a history. Winnipeg's reputation of defiance and passion for human rights has, once again, empowered us to take a stand and demand something better – and the result is a Museum rooted in the past, but poised to change the future.
The Canadian Museum for Human Rights – now under construction — is starting a new kind of revolution. One that still engages the exuberance of youth – and inspires them to rise up and take a stand. But instead of anger and confrontation, this time we'll arm them with learning and dialogue. The Museum's approach will actually mirror the architecture of the building– for just as we build a series of bridges from one learning zone in the museum to another – so too, will we empower people to build bridges of respect within communities and between communities around the world.
We'll build other kinds of bridges along the way — utilizing technology to take the museum outside of its physical walls and create social networks and online experiences that will be just as transformational as the museum journey itself.
We'll take the Museum outside of its physical walls as we build Winnipeg – indeed all of Manitoba – into a human rights destination. It is our vision to be an international human rights destination both virtually and physically for mind, body and soul.
It's our time.
When the building opens its doors in 2012 we'll be on our way to changing the world. We are working in partnership with all four Winnipeg Universities to develop human rights education programs to position Winnipeg as a global destination for human rights promotion and study.
We are building a knowledge and research centre within the museum itself to draw human rights scholars from around the world to engage in symposiums, conferences and think tanks around the topic of human rights. There is a movement afoot to pursue the United Nations to open a UNESCO Office to work with Aboriginal people in confronting the challenges that face indigenous peoples in Canada and around the world.
Local Rotarians are also working to establish Winnipeg as a Rotary World Centre for peace. Youth organizations are working with us to locate their human rights conferences and gatherings here in Winnipeg. The momentum is building.
As Arthur Mauro, founder of the University of Manitoba's Centre for Peace and Justice, recently put it, "just as the Geneva Convention outlined the rules of war, there will be a Winnipeg Convention, establishing the rules for peace and social justice. And Winnipeg will be the new Geneva."
All these efforts go beyond bragging rights and beyond the tourist draw. In Canada's most charitable and generous province, we want to make a difference by making people: understand human rights; demand human rights; and take a stand for human rights – and start a new kind of human rights revolution.
This is our time.
You know, being President and CEO of this magnificent Canadian Museum for Human Rights – brings with it a few perks. The biggest perk of all is being so closely located to the construction site that I can walk over there and witness first hand this mammoth building coming together piece by piece. I marvel at the architecture — the intoxicating combination of mountains of stone, steel and glass in a configuration that is unlike anything else in the world.
Some days I stand in the middle of the structure – when I get the safety clearance to do so — I plant my steel‐toed boots on the ground and look up at the sky. Knowing that one day the sky will be illuminated by a tower of hope – a beacon and message for all people to take a stand for human rights.
And then I look down and marvel at the way we have introduced this building to the land in the most respectful way possible. We started with a blessing of the land by elders of First Nations and Métis communities. We minimized excavating into this historic ground – opting to build on piles to enable future archaeological digs and leave the land as undisturbed as possible. We asked the First Nations and Métis elders to bless the land with a pipe ceremony. And before each piling and caisson was placed into the ground – and there were 450 of them — a First Nations construction worker placed medicine sacs in each hole to offer reparation to Mother Earth.
And then I look around and marvel at the fact that new immigrants are working on the construction site alongside First Nations and Métis workers, des travailleurs francophone, and 2nd , 3rd and 4th generation Canadians whose roots emanate from all parts of the world. Friends, after all these thousands of years – it is still a meeting place.
I can't help but imagine that Mother Earth must be smiling – as we offer her relationships and respect together with the bricks and mortar. We're not even open yet and already our building has a story to tell.
It's your time.
I'm hoping that, like me, between the magnificent building, the stunning location and the human rights mission, you are seeing the incredible tourism opportunities that lay before us as we march ahead from 2012. We believe the Canadian Museum for Human Rights will open up new market segments for central Canada such as youth and LGBT tourism. And, as our city becomes more actively engaged in a human rights revolution, opportunities for voluntourism or human rights pilgrimages will open up as we work together to find creative ways to address our own human rights issues asking others to work with us as we do so.
In addition, we are establishing partnerships and working relationships with communities here and across Canada who have their stories to tell. Specifically we will work with our First Nations, Innuit and Métis communities to create new opportunities in Aboriginal tourism – with a focus on human rights and storytelling. We'll bring the world here to learn Aboriginal concepts of peace and justice.
It's time. It's our time. It's your time.
It's Canada's time.
We have stories to tell – stories of today from Canada and around the world that will encourage people to take a stand and inspire them to action.
By telling our stories, we hope that more stories of change will follow. Stories like the one of two Nova Scotia students who, not too long ago, stood up to school bullies who were picking on a fellow student for wearing a pink polo shirt to school one day. The boy was threatened and harassed and had gay slurs hurled at him for wearing pink. Two Grade 12 students — David Shepherd and Travis Price — heard the news and decided to take a stand. They went to a nearby discount store and bought 50 pink shirts, including tank tops, to wear to school the next day.
Then the two went online to e‑mail classmates to get them on board with their anti‐bullying cause that they dubbed a "sea of pink." The next day, not only were dozens of students outfitted with the discount tees, but hundreds of students showed up wearing their own pink clothes, some head‐to‐toe. It shut down the bullies and created an anti‐bullying movement across North America that is still growing. All because two people chose to take a stand.
It's our time to take a stand for humanity – for promoting respect and the dignity of all people.
When people come to the museum – we will inspire them to action. Whether they make a donation, start a protest, arm themselves with new knowledge, start a letter writing campaign or even do something as simple as wear pink – we will let them know that their actions matter. But why should we wait for the museum to open? Let's start today. I am going to ask a favour of you.
Consider the power of change that exists in this very room right now I just told you what two young men accomplished when they stood up to bullies. Imagine what would happen if we all decided to rise up and do something – whatever it was in our power to do so … like Neil Young, like Nellie McClung, or like two Nova Scotia teenagers.
When you came in here today – you may have filled in the sentence on the screen ""Everyone has the right to.….." if you did – shout out or sign a few of the rights that you care about – go ahead. (wait for a few people to yell them out.)
Thank you. And now I ask all of you to commit to take at least one action to help the world get there. Once you've made that commitment to yourself and to the world …start clapping, or stand up if you like, or make noise as loud as you can bang on the table or keep clapping until we hear, see and feel the thunderous roar of change!
Great! Wow! I thank you for your commitment to humanity. Now, please imagine something with me.
Today there were 1,300 of you. Multiply that number by more than 200 fold – that's at least how many people will come to the museum each year. Imagine our world if everyone took action – even just once. Think of how the world would grow in respect for each other – perhaps even to the point where we no longer have genocide, no longer have oppression, and no longer have inequality.
Now, if you can imagine that world, then I only have one thing to say to you.….…come back in 2012 and beyond and help us build it! And now, ladies and gentlemen, here it is.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I now invite you to watch the screen for the next couple minutes to meet the Canadian Museum for Human Rights up close – the Museum that will change the future.