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Updated: Thu, 07/18/2024 - 18:12

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Honorary Doctorate Recipient Minnie Grey's Address to the 2024 SCS Graduates

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Minnie Grey received an honorary degree from McGill University during the Spring 2024 Convocation for the School of Continuing Studies. Minnie Grey was conferred Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LL.D.) for outstanding contributions to her community and beyond.

Born in Kangirsuk, Minnie Grey has spent nearly 40 years advocating for Inuit health and well-being across polar regions. From Vice-President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council to executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, her leadership has driven crucial health policies, especially for youth mental health and suicide prevention.

Chancellor McCall MacBain; President and Vice-Chancellor Saini; Ms. Bertrand, Chair of the Board of Governors, Dean Weil; members of the platform party, proud parents and guests; and most of all, the graduating class of 2024,

I am deeply honoured to accept this Doctorate Honoris Causa from McGill. Although I have a confession to make: the main focus of my career and my life long involvement has never been “law”. It has always been “justice”.

For Inuit, words matter.

I am a proud Inuk from Kangirsuk, a small community on the shores of Ungava Bay. Kangirsuk means the bay: as the names we give our places, our organizations, our programs are usually very descriptive and meaningful. For example, one of the justice programs I pioneered aims to curb addiction-related crimes by developing healthy lifestyles. It’s called Saqijuq, meaning a change in the wind’s direction.

In the tundra, our ancestors have relied on stars to guide them. Throughout my career I have mostly relied on one issue to show me the right direction to follow: the future of our youth.

I am particularly sensitive to the social issues affecting the youth of Nunavik, such as equitable access to education, health care, and safe social services, and access to intervention programs aimed at encouraging educational perseverance, preventing suicide and parental neglect, and improving the situation of young people struggling with addictions or who are victims of abuse.

In my past role as executive director of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, I have led numerous projects focused on the education and mental health of young Inuit.

For me, it is all about justice, intergenerational justice. Doing what is fair.

Making sure our people have equal rights and equal opportunities for success. Making sure whatever injustice we faced in the past, our grandchildren will only know through oral tradition.

Before I continue, I’d like you all to take a moment and reflect: What does justice mean to you? How do you see yourselves contributing to a just society in your future roles? Law is certainly important but it does not mean anything without justice.

I have never pleaded a case in a court of law. But I have pleaded many cases in many other different forums and places: from Northern Villages small city halls to capital cities’ large parliaments, from overcrowded high school gyms to spacious and immaculate minister’s offices, from the familiarity of my home community to faraway places in United States, Europe, Russia and Greenland.

One reason for which I have always used my voice is to speak for the ones who don’t have the opportunity to be at those forums and express themselves. This brings me back to the issues faced by our youth. I feel I have a moral obligation to speak up to improve the well-being of our children, which in term would improve our collective future of Inuit. A lot of issues Inuit face are coming from intergenerational trauma. And I always wanted to break this terrible cycle.

One of the files I have worked on for a very long time is youth protection services in Nunavik. But here words matter also. I always thought it should be called “family healing”, as we need to focus on healing parents, and grandparents as much as on assuring the well-being of the children.

The geographical location of Nunavik makes access to services, particularly health services, and even more particularly mental health services, a real challenge. My fellow Inuit are working on developing adapted infrastructures and culturally relevant programs. But we still need support from our Southern allies and partners.

For those of you who are starting your careers in any field, I encourage you to become allies. But please, don’t become saviours, we have had enough of those.

I encourage you to learn about Inuit and Nunavik issues and amplify Inuit voices. But please don’t speak for us or over us.

Empowering our local leaders and focusing on culturally relevant initiatives are fundamental acts of justice.

Given that I am addressing a class of newly graduated students today, I want to remind you of the importance of civil communications and common sense.

These are just as crucial as legal principles in practicing law and advocating for justice. As you step into your roles, remember that the effectiveness of the law often depends as much on how you communicate and apply common sense as it does in applying your expertise.

One thing I firmly believe is that you, as future leaders in any field, can advocate for the evolution of Canada and Quebec’s legal frameworks.

It's vital that our legal system is inclusive of Inuit voices and perspectives and responsive to our real-life conditions.

In Nunavik we focus on community-driven solutions to justice, such as the Safer Communities Program called Ungaluk which means the first level of snow blocks as a foundation for an igloo. It is the first Inuit-run crime prevention program. Every year, it funds initiatives created by Inuit for Inuit.

This is justice that uplifts rather than alienates. As I said, words count and these first level of snow blocks make sure the rest of the igloo is stable and safe.

As future professionals, you have a role to play in helping build this new reality.

Because being an ally, not a savior, is a profound act of justice.

In your future careers, you have a unique opportunity to support our efforts for self-determination and respect our right to lead our own social changes. Such collaboration is the essence of justice—empowering rather than overpowering, listening rather than dictating.

Success is something we can achieve together. Moving forward requires us to harness the wisdom of our elders, the energy of our youth and form partnerships that genuinely honor our vision.

True change demands that we confront our fears—whether it’s stepping up to lead, making difficult career choices, or standing up for what's right. Each time I face a new challenge, I am reminded of my people's resilience. The example of our ancestors has always inspired me to persist, to push through barriers, and to uphold my Inuit values no matter the difficulties I face.

I urge each of you, as you embark on your journeys, to view every challenge as an opportunity to positively impact the world.

Your careers are more than personal journeys; they are avenues through which you can effect meaningful, enduring change.

I hope that collectively you will lay foundational pieces to a more just society.

In conclusion, I would like to thank all those that I’ve had the pleasure to work with and my family for always being there and for their unwavering support throughout my career.

Nakurmik Marialuk!

 

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