Address to the UBC Congregation May 27th, 2004
by Madeleine Dion Stout

How Newakoomakanak. Hear ye, all my relatives.

To get at the heart of my word, I have to name names first. Last fall, Dr. Sally Thorne, the Director of the School of Nursing at UBC called me with a chilling thought. She was leading the charge on nominating me for this coveted award and I needed to tell her about my life's work in that heart beat. Thank you Sally for turning me over to the authorities.

Partly because my CV was out of date as usual, my conversation with Sally forced me to smell, touch, see, hear and taste vistas, characters and moments I've known throughout my career. Without doubt, getting this award has proven to be a visceral experience for me.

Meanwhile, my sister Tsinack has never taken much space in the universe yet she is celebrating her birthday here today in the biggest room and with the biggest crowd imaginable. As for my grandson Xue [shway] he will be fashionably late for this Congregation because he is arriving only next week when he will take his rightful place as my first grandchild.

But it is the graduates to whom I look to as channels of power of a different kind, wisdom of a cosmic kind and action of a human kind. You are undergoing a significant initiation ritual today. Initiation rituals have a way of marking our bodies, minds and spirits indelibly. In that way they are inscribed in us and they become visceral experiences.

For it is not by avoiding human triumphs or suffering but by how we triumph and suffer that we get rewarded.

I was home on the Kehewin First Nation when an ecumenical ceremony was held to consecrate the new graveyard as there were now no leftover plots in the old one. During the traditional drumming and chanting that took place, three eagles flew above us. Clearly, our mythical call to cultural symbols like eagles had taken hold once more.

I was with my mother, then eighty-three years old, who upon lifting her head towards the eagles remarked Moyah neyoyah manah nimeyewmawyak okik. This roughly translates to "Me I do not like these." Prophetically perhaps, my brother was the first to be laid to rest in the new graveyard and he was followed by his wife and my mother. As Chief Dan George said "We are as much alive as we keep the earth alive".

On the day of the ecumenical ceremony my mother taught me about power, wisdom and action. First, I learned that power has at least two sides and it either creates or destroys life. Second, I was reminded that the sheer ordinariness of our lives finds expression in high and complex ways and places. Third, I came away knowing our lives constantly teeter between useless triumphs and suffering unless we do these differently and better.

Subjecting our bodies, minds and souls to dignified triumphs and suffering and displaying these to one another fits the teachings of this venerable institution. It suits the language, text and hard science within and it reflects the faces, hearts and Beings without. Dear graduates, you are now the channels of power of a different kind, wisdom of a cosmic kind and action of a human kind. And my heart soars!

Hai hai, thank you, merci.