Mary Simon, Canada’s Governor General, spoke glowingly of the importance of the arts during a speech in Whitehorse on Monday afternoon.
Simon was the keynote speaker at the Arctic Arts Summit, which is being held at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre this week.
It’s the first time the prestigious summit, which is an international forum, has been held in Canada.
Simon arrived in Whitehorse on Sunday for her first official visit to the Yukon.
Her itinerary has included a visit to Carcross on Sunday, a meeting with Premier Sandy Silver and Indigenous leaders Monday, along with that day’s address at the summit.
Simon spoke passionately about the influence of the arts on her upbringing.
“I grew up in two worlds,” Simon said.
“I navigated those worlds, building bridges between them, always with the goal of making lives better for Inuit and protecting Inuit rights, cultures and language.”
She spoke of her traditional upbringing, learning to live off the land, but also knowing “there was another world out there.
“My father, a man of the south, had come to love our world. He also gave us a gift, knowledge of another place, a different culture and way of thinking.”
Simon added, “I learned how important it is to open yourself up to new ideas, and new people and to see the world through a different lens and to be able to do that without giving up who you are.
“I tell you this because you artists and people who support the arts are like that. You build bridges, are open to new ideas and shared who you are with others and held on to your identity.”
Artists, Simon said, shine a light on “issues every day that impact our communities.”
“You show us the wonderful, the mythical and the mundane. The challenges and the beauty of life. Artists are reflective of culture. You communicate important truths to a wider audience.
“No matter what country you are in, you are connecting us through your art, bridging matters of time, language, culture and borders. We need to see your unique points of view.
“Too often, we let others tell our stories, speak for us, define us. It has happened to Indigenous communities for much too long, as well as other minority communities,” Simon said.
“When we take back our stories, reclaim them, speak them in our own languages, we can start to shape ourselves and how others perceive us.”
Simon said she was pleased to see so many Indigenous communities represented at the summit, from Canada and beyond.
“Art is vital to our future,” she said. “I have seen the power of arts and artists in the last year, and it inspires me to move forward.
“Art can lead with reconciliation, an ongoing commitment. It’s addressing the deep wounds of the past and finding ways to heal together.”
Simon added, “It comes down to the truth, giving space to people to tell their stories.
“We need to find room in the world and in our hearts for all stories to thrive. And they are thriving. Your art is the proof.”