Adrienne Clarkson on belonging, migration, & citizenship | #OBConf2019

Adrienne Clarkson on belonging, migration, & citizenship | #OBConf2019


Presenting room for all of us. We have with us the right honorable Adrienne
Clarkson. Adrienne Clarkson arrived in Canada in 1942
as a refugee from Hong Kong and made the astonishing journey from penniless child to accomplished
broadcaster, journalist and distinguished public servant in a multifaceted lifetime. Her mandate as Governor General is universally
acknowledged to have transformed the office and her energy, enthusiasm and passion have
left an indelible mark on Canada’s history. In 2005, Madame Clarkson co-founded The Institute
for Canadian Citizenship, I.C.C, which helps new citizens to become actively involved and
included in Canadian life. The institute hosts six degrees, the global
four amongst citizenship, immigration, diversity, inclusion and belonging in the 21st Century
which takes place annually in Toronto and its global hubs are Berlin and Mexico City. Madame Clarkson is the best selling author
of the 2014 CBC Massey lectures Belonging: The paradox of citizenship and room for all
of us, surprising stories of loss and transformation among others. A Privy Counselor and companion of The Order
of Canada, Madame Clarkson lives in Toronto with her husband, writer and philosopher,
John Ralston Saul, please give a warm welcome to our Canadian friend, the honorable, the
right honorable, Adrienne Clarkson. Hey, I asked for the lights to come up because
I really love to see the faces of people I am talking to. Although, I spend a lot of my life under the
footlights … under spotlights. I really like to look at people, I like to
see their responses to what I have to say. I wish to acknowledge before we begin that
we are gathered today on the occupied territory of the Ohlone people who have stewarded this
land for generations and I recognize that Oakland sits on the territory of the ancestral
and unseeded land of the Chochenyo Ohlone. By offering …
I am so sorry. By offering this land acknowledgement, I affirm
indigenous sovereignty. I am here today from Toronto, Canada, which
is in the Dish with One Spoon territory. The Dish with One Spoon is a treaty between
the Anishinaabe, and the Haudenosaunee that bound them to share the territory and protect
the land. Subsequent indigenous nations in peoples have
all come and been invited into this treaty in the spirit of peace, friendship and respect. I work to help implement the results of the
truth and reconciliation commission in Canada put forward in 2015 and I just want to start
by saying, to you Americans here, you know so little about us in Canada and we know everything
about you. As prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau said
“Nearly 50 years ago, being next to the United States for Canada is like a mouse being In
bed with an elephant. You just worry every time it breathes deeply
that it might roll over on you”. My personal story I thought would be of interest
as a preamble to what I’m gonna tell you about citizenship and belonging. I came to Canada as a refugee with my Chinese
family. I am from … regions of China but my family
is part of a diaspora of Chinese that has been for generations, generations because
of poverty in China living in South America, Indonesia, what’s now Indonesia, Peru and
places in Australia. My father was born overseas in Australia although
of Chinese parents. We lost everything in the war In 1941. We were conquered by the Japanese and we were
very fortunate through a fluke of circumstance, you can read it in my autobiography published
by Penguin some years ago, of how we were fortunate enough to get on a boat as stateless
people and ended up in Canada. We had one suitcase each. We had lost everything and we had had a wonderful
life before us. We didn’t know what we were going to we just
knew we were getting out. We went to a country in Canada which was small,
white, cold, full of white bread and white people and yet curiously very welcoming. I was very welcomed and my brother was too
in the public schools. Ottawa in 1942 was the capital of a little
country that was at war and so it was something where people were very conscious if you had
lost something in the war that they would take care of you and that was what I grew
up with. I also grew up in a city where my father got
a little job in the Federal Civil Service as a clerk in the oils and fats department
of trade and commerce and he saw how advantageous it was for people to be bilingual. The French Canadians then were the only ones
that seemed to be bilingual and he said to me when I was five “You know, you are going
to be bilingual in English and French and the sky will be the limit” and he was right. I grew up with the ideals of public service
as many of my generation in Canada did because we had a wonderful Prime Minister called Lester
B. Pearson who brokered the peace deal around the Suez Canal and invented the word Peace
Keeping which the United Nations has carried on in a noble way for all these years and
that was something that really colored my generation of people as I went to University,
publicly funded University I need to say and still our Universities are publicly funded
so any of you who want to come to Canada, students please do. And afterwards you can stay on as immigrants
and add to our brain pool. I wanted to learn everything about what had
made our country, what it was. The bilingualism and foundation of English
and French was very important to me. The aboriginal foundation, we now call it
the triangular pillar. The aboriginal part was not, when I was growing
up, emphasized. We were taught about the fact that there had
… were aboriginal people, we were given little beaver boards and told to gather pieces
of seeder and birch bark so we could make teepees on this beaver board and they gave
us little stick figures and we dressed them In the fur and they said “This is the way
Indians lived”. Nobody told us that 40 miles from Ottawa there
was a reserve, or what you call a reservation in the United States. We never saw living indigenous person in Ottawa
and it was as though we were learning about the Greeks and the Romans about a civilization
that had already passed and I thought that was really very very odd. I did and I thought “I’ll make up for it sometime”
and I have. Now, when I was … I’ll tell you a bit about
that in a moment because one of my mission as governor-general I have a view about what
nationalism and small societies are because I went to study in France when I was 21 and
the only nation that is comparable to France in terms of “this is the nation’s state and
you fit in it or else” is the United States. Basically the idea of nation’s state does
not welcome the idea of small languages, small groups of people, and the French put this
through in 1548 when they forbade the language, any language, except what we now call the
French language, the Langue D’oil actually, and they said “you can’t speak Britain, you
can’t speak Gaelic, you can’t speak Normon, you can’t speak Provinsalle, you can’t speak
Ossitan, you must speak only French French, you must be monolithic in nature” and a lot
of our problems arise from that idea that there must be something monolithic. My life after University where I was very
awakened to things like the world problems because Canada was taking such a role in peace
keeping. In my second year of University the Hungarian
revolution happened in 1956 and we received 60,000 Hungarians suddenly in southern Ontario,
including an entire University. That made a big impression on us because we
thought “these people had to flee, these people were not welcome anywhere, these people are
undocumented” etc. we took them in and suddenly we had … good coffee and all sorts of wonderful
things done by former professors of engineering and philosophy. When I later came to have a career, after
doing graduate work in France and England, I went into to television totally by accident
which is a story I won’t bore you with today but it is quite exciting and it was not as
a result of affirmative action. I am Chinese although not as Chinese as I
thought. My husband and I did 23 and me out of great
curiosity and when we did 23 and me, I thought I was 75 percent Chinese because I knew there
was great grandmother somewhere in the Australian goldfields who was Irish and who was probably
no better than she should be because who else would have married somebody Chinese who was
doing laundry in some Gold Rush town right? And that was always intriguing to me and I
thought “I’m 25 percent Irish and 75 percent Chinese” and then 23 and me revealed to me
there was only 68 percent Chinese and that I was three percent … are you ready for
this? … Sardinian … and then 7 percent Portuguese. Now the Portuguese really got around so that
didn’t really surprise me and they got around in Asia in a big time way and they didn’t
have … they got there first, for one thing, and they also were always very interested
in the local cultures and intermarrying unlike other colonialists interestingly enough. I became very well known in Canada from 1965
until 1999 because I went into television a gained by a fluke, I did not plan for it. I had worked on my doctorate of English literature
and history and art and archeology and I was asked one day if I’d like to do a book review
on a television program, a daily television program like the today’s show and I said “sure
why not” and I’d never been in a television studio. I knew nothing about it but I liked the darkness,
I liked the three cameras, and it was time … a long time ago, I am 80 okay. So I started in 1965 and these cameras still
moved around the floor and it was marvelous, I loved it. It was like being in another world. Like going to the dinosaur park only you were
part of it and the little red light came on and you knew you were on camera and the little
red light went on and you were on camera, I love it. And so I took to it and it took to me all
I can say is if I hadn’t been good at it, they’d have thrown me out in a minute. I had no … no reservation spot saying that
they were pretty … pretty ruthless people in that kind of role but I managed and I started
and was successful in a number of shows including one called The Fifth Estate which is, after
40 years, still going and winning awards and is very much like your 60 minutes. But no affirmative action got me there. There were 40 people … 45 people who tried
out for my first job and I got it and so I just thought that was perfectly natural and
I think in Canada, it pretty much was. I later did public service by being Agent
General for Ontario in France for five years, I chaired the museum of history and I was
the president of the Mcelland Stewart which is the Canadian publishing company that was
extremely famous for awhile and was the first publisher of Margot Atwood who incidentally
is a great friend of mine. I am name dropping here because she had her
finger on the pulse and when we were 18 and we just turned 80. When we were 18 we met and she was always
going to be a wonderful writer and she is the one that got me to do 23 and me because
she said of all the genetic testings that’s the one you have to do and I listened to everything
that she says because she was brought up by scientist. Her father is a very famous entomologist. He has two insects named after him. Something Beetle Atwood and something Fly
Atwood. Anyway, I was fortunate in being brought up
in a country where we met people like that and knew people like that and it was so terrific
and then I was appointed Governor General in 1999 and everybody said “How did that happen?”. Well its very Canadian, its also very Australian,
very New Zealand and I was … we have our separate head of state and head of government. So our Prime Minister is the head of government
and they defacto a person who signs all the laws into being, gives royal ascent To all
laws in parliament, opens and closes parliament, is the Governor General and I was the Governor
General for six years and so in protocol terms if it makes it simpler for you to understand,
at funerals, like the funeral of President Reagan or the installation of a pope, I would
be seated with your President, the President of Germany and the Kings and Queens of Europe
and I was appointed by our wonderful Prime Minister then Jean Chretien. Its a not political post, its a political
and I lived in a wonderful house called Reedall Hall, which if I do say so myself, looks to
me a little more habitable than the White House. But also the offices are all there but it
is a wonderful place and if you go to Ottawa on a trip its open to the public and you must
take a tour of it. I am very happy with what we did with it when
I was there. So you have all these constitutional obligations
but the basic thing of the Governor General does is to relate Canadians to Canadians and
one of the things I had as my thing was the Native peoples, Native languages, and the
North. Canada is defined by its North and we make
a big mistake if we thing we shouldn’t live in that kind of climate. We love our climate. Freezing ice and snow, two seasons, Winter
and Summer, and we really think that is terrific and our Native people have always showed us
how to live there. They showed us how to penetrate the continent
when we arrived and we did not come to Canada in order to do Agriculture. We came in the 16th Century, the French first
came, in order to exploit the beaver, in order to get beaver skins to make pelt hats for
people in Europe and that was the original opening up economically of Canada and that’s
why the voyagers and people like … Came all the way up the St. Lawrence across the
Great Lakes, down the Mississippi all they were looking for was beaver to enrich themselves. The Governor General is also the found of
all honors, that’s a wonderful phrase, commander chief of the armed forces, the found of all
honors means that you basically give out all the bravery awards, the literary awards, they
were all named for the Governor General and it is a very enriching and wonderful kind
of post. So I was aware of … also of the symbolism
of my appointment. But it is what Canada is. I was followed by the Right Honorable Michaëlle
Jean who was an immigrant from Haiti and who held the post for five years and on foreign
visits because that’s part of your duty is to do state visits, people would often not
say to me but to the staff “How interesting, what is she?” And it was unexpected but I think that’s the
value of being unexpected, to surprise people, catch them off guard and it gave a message
too that Canada is a country of immigration and I have a particular point of view. I’ll tell you about what I think of migration
when I get to the panel but Canada’s governed policy is to take in one percent of our population
through immigration annually. Our population is roughly the size of California,
35,000,000 now, so we aim to take in 350,000 immigrants a year all of whom we want to become
citizens within three to five years and within three to five years in fact our first Syrian
immigrant who came in 2015 are up for citizenship pretty well about now. Our citizenship is quite marvelous in the
way in which it happens very quickly and so once we kind of land an immigrant, then you
take tests and you do various things and we have and 85 percent uptake of citizenship. In the United States its 48 percent. Australia is 78. All my life is colored by the fact that I
was once unwanted, stateless, and didn’t know where we were going. All I had was my family. All I had was that belief that my parents
gave me that wherever we landed we would make our life and we would not only do well ourselves
but we would make the place where we were better than it was than when we found it if
we could. Our immigration policy … in Canada was not
new. We’ve had our ups and downs, we’ve had very
ugly moments, we interned the Japanese during the Second World War the way you did. People that had been born in this country
or their parents had been born in this country and they too and we treated them shabbily. Any amount of restitution doesn’t make up
for that but we try. We’ve at least apologized, we’ve at least
given some money and that is I supposed a value in our kind of society but we had an
immigration policy … we’ve always had an immigration policy and we had a French Canadian
Prime Minister in 1840 who said that “The world should be … the world would be coming
to Canada’s doorstep and we should be welcoming everybody, not that we wanted them to forget
where they came from but that we wanted them to be like ourselves” these are his words
“Canadians”. Then from 1899 to 1911 we opened up the West. We did not … although we have not treated
our Native population well. We did not clear the West with cowboys. We sent out the … Northwest mountain police
which are now the Raw Canadian Mountain Police who went to various forts and made it habitable
for people and then between 1899 and 1911 we opened up the West and of course that was
really really important. Now this morning John A. Powell said “America
was formed by the Anglos and the Saxons I want to tell you that means in our terms the
English gentry, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, all of those, James Madison, all of those
people, they were English gentlemen on plantation with great houses, its not the case in Canada. Canada was founded by Scottish and the Irish
who had lost their causes in what’s now called Great Britain. People who were outsiders, people who were
not of the center” and that’s, I think, why deep in our psyche, we can take in everyone. The Prime Minister who preceded over Confederation,
John A. Mcdonald, was the one who really formed, helped to form our country. We have gone through some very dark times. The health of our society has been that we’ve
been able to overcome these black marks and that we’ve made our official apologies. When I came to Canada, the Chinese Exclusion
Act was still on the books which was that you had to pay a head tax if you were Chinese
to get into Canada but they didn’t pay any attention to it and we were never charged
it but somebody doing a PHD at UBC sent me two years ago a photo copy of the page in
which I am registered by hand by somebody, our family is all registered, but nobody ever
asked us for money. It was just there and I think the fundamental
idea that somehow it was built by White people and that only white people would care to come
to whatever inhospitality the climate might give them. I think that we have to be very certain when
we talk about belonging, that we know what were talking about what we belong to and I
think it is about lateral trust and in my book Belonging, which was a series of radio
lectures, I talk about that. The aspect of belonging in this society and
the allowance for disagreement among these leaders but I also talk about two great concepts. Ubuntu. The African concept which says “I am a person
because you are a person” and it is a statement of cohesion and coherence that accommodates
all living things. It emphasizes our connectedness with each
other in the past and the present and the future. And the other was is the way the Butane’s
in Bhutan measure their prosperity. Not by gross national product but gross national
happiness and gross national happiness means living in harmony and being together. The Butane’s idea is based on the all important
Buddhist concept of interdependence, and that is what belonging is. It isn’t a club, its interdependence, its
people leaning with people, together with people. We have to emphasize the individual courage
of people to be themselves in order to be with other people. When I left Beijing, going to General I decided
I had to have a legacy project which reflect my life and the experiences that I had so
I founded the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and we have programs all across the country
encouraging new citizens to be inclusive embrace fresh thinking, we have something called six
degrees conference which we have every September in Canada we’ve spread out over the world
as well but we have some very practical things. I wanted to do some very practical things. I didn’t want it to be airy fairy all thinking
and talking and like minded people getting together and saying the right things. The cultural access pass was my big brainstorm
we give to every Canadian Citizen through my Institute and that would be every year,
250,000 new citizens because we try to get one percent of our population every year. We don’t always make it because it takes a
lot of bureaucratic time to get people in. This cultural access pass is given to everybody
who becomes a citizen and it gives them the access to 15,000 cultural institutions all
across the country, all the provisional parks, all the national parks for one year and the
lowest rate on our national train system for one year in order for them to feel that they
really belong, that the heritage of the past of Canadians who came before them is part
of theirs and that they can see what was there when they get here and how they will be able
to contribute to it and then we do special citizenship ceremonies in public places like
city town halls, libraries, we would do we’ve even done them in lobbies of hotels or public
parks in the summer where we’ve had round tables before where the new citizens sit with
established citizens we put out a call to people and everybody wants to come and meet
the new citizens And then they have round table and they discuss
what they found in the country, what they’ve learned, what they hope to contribute themselves
and then we have the ceremony and then we have a big cake with a big Canadian flag on
it and do you know what Tim Horton’s is? Donut shop. We usually have Tim Horton’s and coffee and
everybody is very happy and goes off. I think that one of the other things that
belonging means is that when you belong to something, you are part of that and so citizenship
is not … citizenship is definitely not a pick and choose thing. I always say at citizenship ceremonies to
people “don’t say that I don’t want to be bothered with that, I don’t want to think
about the indigenous people, that was done to them before I came and I don’t have any
responsibility for that” citizenship is a fixed menu, its not a Sunday buffet where
you can say “I’ll have the turkey but I won’t have the cranberry sauce and I’ll have the
lobster but not the shrimp”. Its a fixed menu and once you’re adopted into
a family, if you have citizenship, you owe that family your allegiance. Crazy Uncle Bob whose an alcoholic, the gold
digger aunt that you never receive at Christmas, all of that is part of your family and you
have to believe that because that is part of what belonging means, its taking the good
with the bad and I think that civic responsibility spreads out to where you live and that’s what
we try to do through the institute. This one large bowl and single spoon and the
indigenous people have always taught us that because their image is the circle and they
always say they only have to open their hands with one hand with another and include you
in. Its not hierarchical and belonging as a citizen
means taking the good with the bad but it doesn’t mean loving everybody. Loving everybody is not going to solve it. Society is made up of people that you don’t
like who don’t like you, that people you don’t want to sit down and have a sandwich with
even but you have to give them space just as they have given you space and that’s how
you create society through the hard work of trying to overcome what the differences are,
how to chip away at the rough edges and its not going to be done by just love. Hope, yes but not just love. Two things I’ll leave you with. The other things that make it possible for
us to belong in Canada is our public education system. I was educated I guess people say, would say,
in the United States, the rich people would say, you are educated at the expense of taxes. Yes I was and I pay taxes and I am glad that
I pay them for kids who go to school. Also, healthcare is a right of every citizen
in their country. And that is my final word to you. In fact, I think that if you are like I am,
a member of the ordinary Canadian public, whether I’ve had a role whose been very cherished
in society whether you’re a teacher or whatever you are but when you are somebody who has
held high office in our country in Canada, you go back to just thinking about yourself
as just the human being who believes in this public education, in the public healthcare,
in the welcome of refugees. We open doors to immigrants, the bilingual
in our two official languages in our country and the ongoing work of reconciliation with
our indigenous people. Thank you.

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