National Black Canadians Summit

Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada


‘ We are poor but we are proud’

By  Michaelle Jean

At the recent National Black Canadian Summit in Toronto, Michaelle Jean, former Governor       General  of Canada, delivered the keynote address.

The  Haiti-born Secretary General  of La Francophonie, spoke of the pride of the people of her native country and recalled the historic moment when the first Black US President and the first Black Governor  General of Canada met.

The following is an excerpt from her address:

Haitian people are often spoken of as the most destitute in the hemisphere—which is economically true—but the Haitian people are also a very proud and culturally rich people who know their history.

Let me give you this anecdote as an example.

When Barak Obama was elected President of the United States, his first visit to a foreign country was in Canada, in February 2009.

History intended for the first Black President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States to be greeted by me, the first Black Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada.

We were instantly struck by the salient reality: “Who would have thought that one day the Commander in chief of Canada and the Commander in chief of the United States would both be of African descent, and in office at the same time?! Let us rejoice!”

The power of that symbol was not lost on anyone. Yes, a new chapter in the histories of civilizations was being written right under our eyes. It was the first thing we shared Obama and I, when we met, enjoying the moment.

Then, after we discussed issues of interest to both our countries, Canada and the US, President Obama asked me about Haiti.

I was just home from an official visit over there, to assess damage from a violent hurricane in the northern parts of the country. While in Haiti, as I addressed a crowd of mostly young people gathered at the foot of a statue of Toussaint Louverture, a hero of Haiti’s revolution, all of a sudden, a young woman stepped forward and shouted:

“Remember!”, she said. “You owe it to them! You owe it to our heroes. If it weren’t for what they did, you wouldn’t be Governor General of Canada. If it weren’t for their courage”, she said, “their struggles, their victory, Barak Obama wouldn’t be President of the United States either. You tell him! Tell him that everything got started here, in Haiti! We are poor but we are proud!”, she said.

“That girl, wasn’t she right?”, I asked President Obama.

“It is so true. She’s so right,” he kept repeating, obviously quite moved, nodding in approval.

Haitian women and men want all of humanity to remember that role, that immense, unique role they played, and for which they are still paying a price.

For through the blood and sweat of her main actors, the Haitian revolution proved to the world that the human spirit could triumph over the most extreme hardships, no matter how impossible victory may seem.