6 September 2018

The words of Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine dance through time: "I eat blueberries and apricots. I must speak for the beginning. A cry rises in me and transfigures me. The world is waiting for the woman to come back as she was born: woman standing, woman power, woman resurgence.” (my translation from original French language text)

To talk about beginnings is to name the first moment of all – the roots that support a tree, the breath drawn just before speaking, uncertainty before taking a decisive step. To say the beginning is also to speak of what could have been, like a meeting that never took place and from which the dew of spring might have trickled. To imagine the beginning is to take a starting point that is doubtlessly also an arrival point, and the mysterious journey between the two.

In October 2018, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation will hold meetings in Yukon and Nunavut, two parts of Canada that will give us the opportunity to think about beginnings and the tapestry we may weave with the finesse of words spoken, and heard. Our public consultations will take place in Whitehorse October 2nd, in conjunction with a visit from the college of the Royal Society of Canada; and in Iqaluit October 29th. Because of the number and intensity of these meetings, the Foundation will not be holding its regular annual forum this fall.

As you know, in addition to inclusive excellence, the other main theme of our consultations is engaged leadership. The concept of leadership alone raises a range of questions about what it is, its scope and the instinctive quest for recognition. Is it a talent or skill only within reach for a few individuals? Should leadership be seen more as a role that is held by a variety of people, or as a process of interaction and influence between an individual and members of a group? How should this influence be exerted and under what conditions can it lead to social change?

Of course, many writers have pondered leadership and proposed various models. Different organizations also promote their own vision of leadership. Moreover, like any concept, leadership is necessarily culturally situated. In short, it is essential, in this context, to discuss with you the implications of "engaged leadership".

While our consultations in September and October will take us to Canada's North, two women from this great region, Mary Simon and Sheila Watt-Cloutier – who are both former Mentors with the Foundation - offer food for thought on leadership. In a report she submitted in March 2017 as Special Representative for the Minister of Indigenous Relations, Carolyn Bennett, Mary Simon notes that "We sometimes think too narrowly about what leadership is", limiting it to leaders elected. Yet, writes Simon, "It does not rest solely with elected leaders, although this is essential. Leadership is also found in the actions of bureaucrats, negotiators, policy and program specialists, in the actions of local champions and in the voices of advocates. In other words, we all share a role, if not an obligation, when developing and implementing Arctic policy of demonstrating a measure of leadership and understanding the history and evolution of ‘the honour of the Crown."

It is also a decentralized notion of leadership that Sheila Watt-Cloutier, nominated in 2007 for a Nobel Peace Prize, puts forward in her memoirs (The Right to Be Cold, 2015), that "Leadership means never losing sight of the fact that the issues at hand are so much bigger than you." For Watt-Cloutier, it is also a question of using independent judgment and having the courage to say things frankly, while following the ethic of proactively reaching out and a "policy of influencing" over conflict and confrontation. On a more introspective note she also makes this observation: "Leadership is about working from a principled and ethical place within yourself. It is to model, authentically, for others, a sense of calm, clarity and focus. Leadership is to always check inward, to ensure you are leading from a position of strength, not fear or victimhood, so you do not project your own limitations to those you are modelling possibilities for."

I am convinced that you will also have rich ideas to share on the meaning and implications of "engaged leadership" for Canada's future. I invite you to register, using the following forms, for the discussion forums that we will be holding in Whitehorse and Iqaluit:

Whitehorse (YK): October 2nd, 2018
Iqaluit (NT): October 29th, 2018

Taking on the symbolism of memory and the construction of identity, Natasha Kanapé-Fontaine wrote: "A cry rises out of me and I say yes to being born. I remember." (My translation) We also remember a deep roar from within and the need to say yes: Yes to birth, to the beauty of difference, to the tragedy of seeking to homogenize bodies and dialects. Yes to the roar and its uncompromising truth. By joining with our Northern communities, we will seek dialogue and give way to healthy, active listening. Together at the Future Forums we will build toward a common future marked by solidarity and the rich pulse of communities. I urge you to sign up to participate. In the meantime, please have a look at this video which helps explain the goal of these consultations.

I am looking forward to seeing you and thanks to these consultations which will help light the way toward a new beginning and to write the pages of a story that will be the picture of our shared story.