Today is a day you might have thought would never come, and one you will never forget. Today is a day full of accomplishment and full of promise for your "yet to be's". Today is graduation day.
Graduation is, above all, a time for reflection and decision-making. Today, like a builder, you are laying a foundation for your future. Both of you will build a different life. You have dreams and ambitions. I encourage you to reach beyond what you have already achieved here today, and reach for your own personal best.
It's a great honour to be invited to be the special guest speaker today to share in the excitement of your graduation. I value greatly the opportunity to come to events such as graduations to share with the students, parents, teachers and community members their success. I am currently on a consultation tour visiting each one of the Cree communities, with Grand Chief Mukash, on the proposed new Cree-Canada relationship, so I apologize for not being able to be there today in person. However, I did not want you to think I was not proud of the hard work you did to reach this day as you to graduate, nor did I want to miss the chance to relate to you the confidence and hope I have in each of you.
Leeanne Bosum and Renee Dixon, it is my pleasure to congratulate you on behalf of the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) and the Cree Nation. The theme "the key to a brighter future is education" is true. I would encourage you to remember that education is something that once you have, no one can take it away from you. I was taught many things from grandparents, the value of life and the Cree culture and language, and learning from the western world. It has made me proud to be Cree. We, as a people, never have given up, no matter what we faced. We have overcome many hardships. Graduating is about investing in ourselves and opening doors to many new opportunities.
I want to share with you a personal story of my brother, Matthew Jr., I have mentioned him in several of my speeches, and he is living proof no matter what you have faced in life, never give up. At an early age of 7, he was struck by a huge truck, and the doctors did not know if he would make it. He lost his leg in that accident. My brother had to learn to walk again, and had to learn to adjust to a different life. He could have been down but he was not. He has always been one to make sure nothing limited what he could accomplish. He has a beautiful family, and is pursuing his dream of singing and performing throughout the Cree Nation and elsewhere in the world. Last week in Chisasibi, I watched his band Ceramony perform at the first Annual Cree Nation Arts Festival; it was an emotional evening for me realizing he is a role model for reaching for your dreams, no matter what you have gone through.
Believe in yourself, and work at something you like to do, and you will never regret or wonder what if. Myself, I have been fortunate to have the support of my family in whatever I did in my life. My parents, siblings, and especially, my niece and nephew give me energy and help me remember what is important in life. I have been honored to serve the Cree Nation in many different capacities over the years.
In the past year, I have represented the Cree Nation and traveled to Africa to give testimony on the impacts of large scale hydroelectric development on our people. I traveled to New York to be a part of the Indigenous caucus supporting a United Nations declaration to recognize and promote the 360 million indigenous peoples rights throughout the world. I have gone to Australia to meet with Aboriginal leaders where we shared our experiences on different developments such as mining and youth issues. It's amazing the similarity of experiences other indigenous peoples have faced, and how easy it is to share our successes. Today, we stand strong as a Nation, and committed to making a difference in the lives of our people and other indigenous peoples.
There is nothing beyond your reach. Since my graduation many opportunities have come along in life. To take advantage of these, you have to be ready to take a step, get out of your comfort zone. For some this will mean leaving your home, and pursuing higher education to take you further in life.
Although I may travel and meet interesting people, I enjoy most of all the time I get to spend in the Cree Nation visiting the Cree communities. Our people are respected throughout the world for their leadership and strength. It has been a teaching of our Elders to never lose hope, respect yourself and others, and to show our love to others. Because of their teaching, our people are recognized for our accomplishments. I realized this more when I meet people from other nations. When I went to the United Nations, they asked me to address the Assembly on behalf of over 150 indigenous and non indigenous organizations from around the world.
We have much to be proud of, and although we work to create better services and development in the community, what we have accomplished has set a standard in the world. We are progressing well as a people and Nation, and as you go out into the world I would ask you to remember this, as a Cree from Eeyou Istchee, people will have heard of you, and read about your nation. Many schools use the agreements we have made, and the relations we have as models and examples to teach their students. There will hardly be a paper in Quebec, Canada or the western world who has not reported on the Grand Council of the Crees (Eeyou Istchee) which serves and represents you.
As you go forward, remember your home and Nation are here. We support you in more than financial ways, we believe in you, and share in today's celebration with you of your accomplishments. I look forward to seeing you when I come to the community of Ouje-bougoumou.
Meegwetch, and God Bless all of you.