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History Table of Contents
1998 Summer Conference
Summer Conference 1998
Rethinking Canada for the 21st Century

The Canadian Essence: What will it mean to be
a Canadian in the 21st century?

Qajaaq Ellsworth, Regional Youth Co-ordinator,
Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Nunavut

I would just like to say thanks for having me down here and sitting up here speaking to you.

I’m very proud to be one of the people who can wave these [the Canadian flags behind the speakers] and say I am Canadian. I am also proud to be Inuit, to come from a people that have been around for a long time and have lived a very sustainable life.

I only get to give you first half of what I really wanted to say and hopefully it will get a few people thinking which, I understand, is the major purpose of this.

Being Inuit to me means being Canadian. And to define that for you being Inuit, or being of the Inuit people, means being clean and means being surrounded by cleanliness, being respectful towards others and respected by others. And that includes respecting the land, the animals and the plants, the air and the water, our family, our people and everybody around us.

Respect is not only tolerance; a term I’ve heard thrown around here and there. It seems to be one of the buzzwords these days. It goes far beyond tolerance and includes understanding, acceptance and assistance towards others.

As mentioned, I worked at the Qikiqtani Inuit Association as a youth co-ordinator. We’ve adopted a very simple mission statement, which is: to be happy, help others to be happy and help others to help others to be happy — which to me is being Canadian.

My Canada in the 21st century — I can only give you half of this — is dark, it is dirty; the oceans are filled with oil and gas and garbage, dead animals floating all over the place. It’s polluted. We will have made a much smaller place for us to live because the dumps are so big. The crime rate will be very high. People will have no respect for the law and the laws that we do have will be BS (sic) any way.

There’s a very high rate of unemployment; a very low level of what we call education. There will be an uproar among the minority groups and chaos among the Aboriginal people; disrespect towards all that are different from our own.

[There will be] attempts to make everybody the same. There will be people killing themselves, left and right.

And doing their best to kill other people, spiritually and physically.

There will be no assistance to those people in need; people will be falling and we’ll just be watching them fall around us. There will be power, either in the hands of too few people or power in the hands of too many people.

And I guess the worst thing of all is there will be very little desire among us people to celebrate life and to be happy and to do the things that we love to do.

I think that takes up three minutes, but I wanted to save the rest of the stuff for the question period.

I really like the scenario exercise yesterday. I came here expecting that’s what we’d be doing throughout the whole conference. But that’s one scenario we can have and it’s a very realistic scenario, I believe, if we don’t set our goals a littler higher than we have in the years, then we’re heading towards a very dark future; one where we’re going to promote death among everyone around us and slowly kill ourselves.

[Moderator: I want to break my own rules from the five-minute mark for a second, because that’s a very dark description. Perhaps, if I give you a few more minutes you might give us another scenario. I’m sure you have a vision that we could aspire to a bit more. I’m going to indulge everybody on the panel to ask before we all feel terrible depressed, if Qajaaq might giver us a moment of optimism here.]

This part goes more into the 12 minute, 30- second mark. If you guys just want to think about that for a bit. This was done very tactfully last night.

The darkness and the very downward looking exercise, I think, is something we must do. We have to look at our worst possible scenario and think about it and not be afraid to look at it with all it’s ugliness and all that.

Once we look at it, then we’re looking at the things within ourselves that create this ugliness and, by doing that even if it’s just for a few minutes, then I think we can start to get rid of a lot of that garbage.

I respect you wanting to go on, but if everyone can just think about that for a little bit and don’t be afraid to think of all the bad stuff.