The Grand Council of the Crees

Cree School Board 20th Anniversary Public Speaking Contest, Waskaganish

Remarks by Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff

Posted: 2008-04-17

I would to first congratulate all of the participants who have reached the stage of coming to the Regional Public Speaking Contest. Words are powerful. Our expression of our thoughts whether they be in art, writing or speech has the ability to impact the world and people around us. The words we say at home, at school and at work add to the atmosphere, and the feelings of the people who are there with us. The ability to give speeches is a gift that with practice can be used to educate, unite or call to action those who listen to our words.

There have been great speeches given throughout history that have influenced many of us here today. One of the greatest speakers of the 1960s was the former President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy. In one of his famous speeches, President Kennedy told a nation "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." From there an organization known as the Peace Corps took off. It was a movement of youth signing up to travel throughout the world to build bridges, communities, water systems, and other humanitarian efforts throughout the poor countries in the world. He inspired one of the most powerful nations in the world to not ask for more, but to enter a period where its' best and brightest youth would go throughout the world to give something back.

Martin Luther King Jr., a preacher and leader of the Civil Rights movement in the United States to end racism and segregation stated after his historic march on Washington D.C. famously said 'I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.' He was able through words to convey ideas which would change the way a nation thought about the value of other people based not on what they looked like but on what they did.

In times of great need for people to hear reassuring or rallying words, there have been leaders who have inspired entire nations to action. Whether it is the Kennedys of the past, or the Obama's of the present, in each generation there are those who seek to stir things within us, and encourage us to reach beyond what we have been given. I encourage you to continue to write and speak, and seek to encourage those around you with words that good ideas can lead to positive growth in our homes, communities and Nation.

Gandhi was an advocate of truth and non violence. His country was occupied by one of the most powerful empires in the world at the time, and he convinced one of the largest countries in the world to follow his principles of truth, non violence and nonresistance. His people would simply grind the entire country to a halt, and gain their independence. He said "when I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end they always fall - think of it, always."

Nelson Mandela spoke words to end apartheid in his country on his arrest in 1964 where he would spend 27 years in jail for his cause "I have dedicated my life to the struggle of the African people...I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die." He lived, and went on to become president of South Africa in 1994 when black South Africans were first given the right to vote in their own country.

Today, we hear speeches every day on the television by presidential candidates in the United States, Barack Obama has been one of the proficient speakers in the campaign. A powerful message from one of his recent speeches was "Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.

We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. We are the hope of those boys who have little; who've been told that they cannot have what they dream; that they cannot be what they imagine.

Yes they can.

We are the hope of the future; the answer to the cynics who tell us our house must stand divided; that we cannot come together; that we cannot remake this world as it should be.

Because we know what we have seen and what we believe - that what began as a whisper has now swelled to a chorus that cannot be ignored; that will not be deterred; that will ring out across this land as a hymn that will heal this nation, repair this world, and make this time different than all the rest - Yes. We. Can.."

Through speeches we educate people of what we believe and who we are. Through words we will inspire the best in people, and present a better picture of what tomorrow will look like.

Finally, I will leave you with other words that have transformed the world around us in different ways. In the bible, in the book of John, Jesus in responding to Nicodemus, a Pharisees in 3:16 as saying "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Spiritually, these words are of love and hope, and carry a message that is fundamental to Christianity.

So, today as you have prepared your ideas and words to speak to each of us here, I would ask you to do it with truth and confidence in yourself. Your thoughts and words have the ability to change the way people think, feel and perceive each other. The men and women who have changed the world with great speeches have come from different backgrounds, cultures and nations.

The Cree nation and people you come from spoke out about development in our territory many years ago. We voiced our concerns with truth and confidence, and made history by creating the first modern day agreement between a national government and an Aboriginal people. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement paved the way for many more nations in Canada and the world to set standards for their own modern agreements. As a Nation, we must not be afraid to speak out when we feel there is injustice, violations of our rights or threats to our way of life.

I thank each of you for the efforts you have made to be here today, and your willingness to share with us what you have chosen to talk about tonight. If I could leave you with something tonight, it would be to seek to write and speak out in a way that builds up our Nation, for we as a people will flourish if we can continue to move forward in a positive direction. We as communities, families and individuals need to support each other with words of encouragement each day, and these good seeds of hope, love and respect that we plant will make good things will happen all around us.

I thank you and wish all of you my best as you return to your home communities.