Prime Minister Trudeau delivers remarks at Oskayak High School in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Thank you very much for the warm welcome today. Thank you for the beautiful drumming and the smudging. It's a pleasure to be here on Treaty Six territory. Thank you for welcoming me here.
It's a pleasure to be here with so many friends, old and new. Obviously here with Ralph Goodale, our Minister of Public Security and Safety, but also so many other friends and chiefs. I want to highlight that we got a message from Brad Trost who wasn't able to be here today but sends his very best. He's at a citizenship ceremony this morning, but he wishes everyone here the very best as well, as your local MP.
And I'm just excited to be back in such a wonderful school. For me, the extraordinary school spirit and success that happens here at Oskayak is an example of the kind of things we need to be working on, not just here in Saskatoon but right across the country. It's something that everyone, teachers, staff, and students, should be very, very proud of. And I'm excited to be able to be here to take some of your questions.
The way today is going to work is I'm going to say a few words, then I'm going to take some questions – just a few questions – from media. Then we are going to open it up to all of you. I would love to take questions from students to see what's on your mind, what questions you have for me, for the federal government, concerns you have, issues. For me, listening is every bit as much important as speaking, if not more important. Because the learning and the understanding of your issues helps me do my job. It's very similar to when I was a teacher. Everyone thinks teachers are all about giving out answers and talking, but good teachers are all about listening, understanding, and empowering their students. And I know there's lots of great examples of that here in this school. So learning how to understand and empower is at the centre of being a teacher, but it's also, for me, at the centre of being a politician and a Prime Minister.
So I want to thank Principal Laliberté and all the teachers and students who gave me a tour today. We got to see a tremendous example of the kinds of forward-thinking initiatives that do so well in schools across the country. A class that combined both woodworking and entrepreneurship skills and business skills in a way that is really, really exciting. And I want to highlight the Martin Initiative – Paul Martin, the former prime minister's initiative -- as represented by Lucy Santoro here today, for the extraordinary work they're doing building success with indigenous students across the country so that they can, not just fully contribute to their communities in the coming years and build strong families, but indeed contribute in such concrete and real ways to our entire country, and the success that we can and must be building in the coming years. Because giving indigenous students every opportunity to succeed isn't just about your communities and your future, it's also about the future of the country, because the percentage and the proportion of indigenous students and young people is so much greater than non-indigenous in many ways. So this is exciting for me.
Making a connection between what you're learning here and what you're going to be able to use for the rest of your lives is really important. And all too often, education is seen as a necessary step that doesn't really have an impact on the rest of your lives. And schools like Oskayak are really important in changing that narrative.
One of the things I was thinking of as I was hearing the beautiful songs sung this morning and seeing the ceremonies and the pride and language and culture we have here – and it's something I'm starting to take not for granted but just understand is automatically a part of it – whenever I go meet with chiefs or young people or visit a healing centre, a friendship centre, an indigenous school, there's a wonderful celebration, drummers, singing. We have to understand that a generation or two ago it wasn't just that it wasn't done, it was forbidden. You weren't allowed to celebrate your language and culture. You weren't allowed to take pride in your identity and your connection to the land, to the extraordinary history and stories that make up such an important part of this country. And it was largely the responsibility and the fault of the federal government at the time. That's the legacy of residential schools.
So when we get to almost begin to take for granted the wonderful songs and the drumming and the culture and the stories that infuse our communities now, we have to understand that this is an important part of the path forward that we are all on together, and one to be recognized and celebrated and never taken for granted, as we know, because, you know, the elders that we have around – and it's wonderful to see you here today – remember well a time where this simply wasn't the case. And we need to continue to work hard to ensure that this sense of culture, identity, language is built on and celebrated and, indeed, not just looked at as something for all of you but something that will infuse the culture and the lives of everyone who lives on this land. Everyone, indigenous and non-indigenous, can benefit from the strength of identity and celebration that is shown here today.
So, teachers, thank you. Thank you for the work you do with your students. Thank you for your dedication. I spent a number of years as a teacher and I know well how incredibly personally satisfying it is to work with an extraordinary group of young people. But I also know how incredibly challenging it can be. And I know I speak for all the kids here when I say thank you for your dedication to this extraordinary school and to these extraordinary students.
In talking about teachers and staff and community leaders, it's worthwhile to reflect on what the government's role is in all this. What role could, specifically, the federal government have in building a stronger future for all of these students and for our communities? Well obviously, as I said, government's first role is to listen.
No one understands the needs of indigenous communities better than the people who are living in those communities. And you here know what young people need in order to succeed. If we don’t listen to you, we all lose out. I also believe that it’s the government’s responsibility to come to the aid of those who have been mistreated for too long—especially when it comes to indigenous populations.
We need to invest in your future because when you succeed, when indigenous youth succeeds, Canada will succeed. That's why our government is investing $2.6 billion over five years to improve primary and secondary education on reserve. And it's why we're investing nearly $970 million more to repair, build, and maintain new schools on reserve.
What I saw today in your school proves to me that it's a smart investment, and I can't wait to see how far this year's graduating class will go.