Roberta Jamieson says goodbye
TORONTO - Right in the very heart of Canada's financial district, the chief
of the country's most populous reserve held an audience enthralled.
During a lunchtime speech at the century-old Empire Club in the prestigious
Royal York hotel, Chief Roberta Jamieson of the Six Nations of the Grand
River Territory spoke to a gathering of more than 100, some of them with
significant influence on the economic pulse of Toronto.
For her 20-minute address on Dec. 2 titled "Releasing the Potential: First
Nations in Canada's Future" Jamieson referenced the coming change in how
Indians in the country are treated.
"We are stuck in a snow-bank of mushy ideas rooted in a sense of
colonialism," the Chief said.
An Order of Canada recipient a decade ago, Jamieson was the first
indigenous female to earn a law degree in Canada. Recognized for her
impassionate work on behalf of First Nations, she was the first
non-parliamentarian appointed to a House of Commons (Ottawa) committee in
"Too many people are feeling helpless when they read another Aboriginal
study saying the [poverty] gap has widened," Jamieson said. "Our leaders
are to ask themselves as to what we want to do for the seventh generation
of whose faces can be seen in the distance."
Yes, she acknowledged, money needs to be spent to assist Natives but it's
the private sector that holds the key to Aboriginal success.
"The cost of doing nothing will be a lot higher than the cost of doing
something at the right time and that time is now," Jamieson said to the
mild applause of the audience. "The clock is ticking."
To that extent, Jamieson challenged her listeners to get out and push her
people from the rut where they find themselves. Jamieson wanted these
leaders to identify potential within Native Canadians, whether youth or
elders; individuals or groups; scholars, healers or creative people.
Such talent is quite likely to come from an Aboriginal background, she
surmised, in part because of population growth occurring on reserves.
"Canada is facing extreme shortages in human resources. Someday we should
be able put this together with the talent available," said Jamieson.
The sponsor of the event was Royal Bank Canada and it was an executive vice
president, Charles Coffey, who following Jamieson's speech gave his own
brief interpretation of First Nations history in the country. This
summation, as simple and plain as it was, provided a quick background for a
crowd that, generally, is far removed from Native Canadians and any
lifestyle on the reservation.
Jamieson's address at the Empire Club, which received a standing ovation,
was one of her last acts as chief as she stepped down from the position the
next day following the inauguration of the new chief and council at Six
Nations. Deciding not to seek re-election, Jamieson served for three years
based on a platform that featured seven principles, including transparency,
which she felt was accomplished and thus believed her job was complete.
"Open audits and more engagement from the community then ever before and
so, in a word, delivery. That's why I felt I was able to move on," Jamieson
Her new path will position her in downtown Toronto as the chief executive
officer of the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (NAAF), an
organization that advances the educational and career goals of First
Nations youth. She has initiated the project Vision 20/20, an attempt is to
train more Natives to become doctors and other medical specialists.