MAY 22, 2009

Good morning … Chancellor, President Toope, graduates and honoured guests.

Today is a great day for all of us … here on the campus of the University of British Columbia … unceded traditional territory of the Hunquminum speaking people … Coast Salish territory of my Musqueam Peoples!

It is a pleasure to stand here before so many astounding people from our community … our ever-changing community. Our fast paced way of life has changed this land drastically.

Over the years, I have seen many changes throughout our territory. Before the U.B.C. campus really began to develop and expand, as a young child I spent countless hours by the side of the single lane road leading to U.B.C. … picking wild salmon berries and saskies with my siblings and late mother. I fished for Coho, as a teenager, in Tin Can Creek (which runs through Pacific Spirit Park and through Musqueam) with friends. Now, we only see completely faded runs of salmon … and top off stocks yearly to keep the numbers up. If I tried fishing there now I would surely be arrested.

Musqueam Dancers used to walk far into "the bush" … what is now called Pacific Spirit Park … to carry out their traditional winter cultural customs. As the trails expanded through the bush for the public … we saw diminished diversity and opportunity in our cultural practices.

With my first car I began exploring the roads in U.B.C. becoming familiar with what was always on the other side of "the bush" to me. After having children I spent a lot of time bicycling the trails that had become so popular. I have seen countless developments in U.B.C. … especially in the most recent years. "The Bush" is getting smaller every year and, no doubt, this will continue. We must all take care to ensure "Bush" and "Green Space" remains an integral part of the U.B.C. campus.

I did not become an artist to be credited with prestige. My initial goal was to educate myself and learn more about my Salish Peoples unique art form. Then my goal was to educate a wider audience and to share our rich history with everyone. I simply wanted to pay tribute to my Salish Peoples heritage.

Having said that … one of the reasons I accept this Doctorate of Letters today is because U.B.C. and Pacific Spirit Park is my backyard. I consider this close to home and close to heart. Thank you to the University of British Columbia for granting me this degree … it is definitely a great honour that I will embrace for all time to come.

Thirty years into my artistic journey … much has changed. My focus right now is also my biggest challenge … "just being an artist -- an artist of our time" … and I am heartily pushing myself at this point!

I do not feel that I have any qualifications to give advice to young outstanding minds … just my personal perception.

Throughout my career, art has inspired me to see more of the world … allowing me to meet many people including other great artists from various unique cultures. Planet Earth … our playground! Now is your chance to meet other unique cultures, meet animals, and seek out the soul of the planet to bring the concept of the "global university" to reality … to apply what you have learned and experienced here at U.B.C. as you broaden your horizons.

One thing is very obvious … we are all born with the knowledge to do our finest. The knowledge of black and white, right and wrong, good and bad, life and death is ingrained in us all. These are all part of each generation … past, present and future.

I have learnt through my Salish experience that … "to coin a phrase" … "the circle of life" represents all life on Mother Earth. Consequently, my life is not just my own … it’s everyone’s life … before me and after I am gone. We, as humans, are the only species that can perceive and foresee our future. We can contemplate what is going to happen next. Our lives are finite … that understanding is what creates, I believe, the infinite spirit of humanity.

On a final note, I would like to congratulate all of you graduates today … on all of your achievements. Now the excitement begins … the true measure of who you are and what you stand for! You can do anything with what you have learned here at U.B.C. and I am convinced that you will do your best brightening the future for all generations to come!

Thank you. I am truly honoured!