Dempsey Bob, acclaimed Tahltan-Tlingit artist, Officer of the Order of Canada, and recent UBC honorary degree recipient gave the following keynote address at the First Nations House of Learning Graduation Celebration at the Sty-Wet-Tan Hall on May 24, 2014 (read more here).
First of all, I want to recognize the Musqueam people whose land we’re on. It’s part of our protocol and it’s really important to us.
I want to congratulate the graduates because I know what is –– it’s a magnificent struggle, that’s what it is.
Your family support, that’s what’s behind it all.
To receive your degree, to accomplish anything, takes a lot of hard work, a lot of study. What you have now is something very good and precious you’re holding, because that’s your future.
To really truly have something, you have to earn it by your hard work, by your study, by your discipline, by your belief in yourself. To really succeed, you have to have the support of your family, your culture, your people.
You also have to use what you know, what you learned — that’s the secret. You have to use it now. Because now you’ve stepped into this house. You’ve stepped into a new time in your life, a new beginning. You have to use what you know, because that’s really what’s important.
And what’s going to last is the good use of your knowledge and your culture too. And don’t forget the people that supported you, also all the people that you met, your experiences here at the university.
What I thought about this morning was our ancestors. It’s ‘one more time for our ancestors.’ That’s what we say when we dance, ‘one more time.’ Because when we do something we say ‘our ancestors are with us.’ I feel they are with us today and they would be proud — proud of what you’ve accomplished. Be proud of yourself.
Also to really succeed you need discipline; you need to continue to learn. Because of this society, the technology is changing so fast. If you don’t change and you don’t continue to learn, you’ll get left behind. I realize that, because I’m a teacher, if a teacher doesn’t continue to learn, he just repeats himself. I realize that to be a really good artist, you have to continue to learn your whole life.
What you’re going to take from this university is all the good things. Adapt it to your life and what you want to do. And you have to find the passion of what you really want to do, and what your truth is, and then develop it. Because if you don’t… what happens in life is most people are sitting on the fence. Most people sit on the fence their whole life and they wake up one day and they think ‘What have I done?’ ‘What have I really done?’ I was lucky. I had the support of my family and my people. And I realized that if we don’t do it, it’s going to be gone.
Keep going. Don’t stop now. Because you know how much stress you went through… you have to make that meaningful now. You have to be successful in whatever you do, whatever you want to do. Because what happens now, you got to believe in yourself. Really believe in yourself now and go for it. That’s what I did with my work and that’s what I’m trying to teach our students.
What you have now is very precious. But you have to use it to make it stronger, to make it grow. It’s not going to grow by itself. You have to be the one that makes it grow.
I found that if I keep pushing myself, keep challenging myself, to try to get better, to learn more, to do better art, to learn more, to push, keep pushing… Because our ancestors, when we made our art for our culture, it had to be the best. It had to be the best we can do. Because my grandmother said ‘because that’s our face, that’s who we are.’ She said, ‘it’s in our blankets, it’s in our robes, it’s in our buttons, it’s in our beads, it’s in our people, it’s in our bracelets, and this is for our children.’
You are a great example for our children, which is great. What I see now… you know, because the residential schools were such a negative thing for our people, I’m really proud of you. That you come this far and you’ve accomplished something, something really good. Because education to us has always been negative because of the residential school, what happen there. But now we have to turn it around because that’s what going to be our power in the future — the education. That’s what’s going to make our people better. That’s what’s going to lift our people up. But don’t forget about our culture. Don’t forget about our values. Don’t forget about our people. Don’t forget about our land.
I know it’s really hard to do it, it’s a long struggle, plus you have to use a lot of energy. Now you have to use everything you’ve got and anything you can borrow too [laughter].
I’d like to congratulate you again and wish you good luck in whatever you do. I’m very proud of you. I’m very proud to be here. It’s an honour to be here, to speak, to share this day with you. Because I know how important it is and how hard it is to get here.
Because when I was in high school I got a C-minus in art. That made me so mad. But I’m looking for that teacher now [laughter]. But it doesn’t really matter because she made me more determined to be Tahltan and Tlingit, and to be myself, and to find my worth, and to find my truth, and to find what I wanted to do.
That’s your new struggle now, is to find out what you really want to do and just go for it. Because that’s all that’ll matter is doing good things. Good things are going to be the things that are going to last.
I want to thank you and thank the university for this time. I want to thank the Musqueam people again because it’s really great to be here. It’s good to be on their land to share this day.
I want to thank the families too. Because I know it’s a big struggle. Your support for the graduates — it takes time. Not only time, it takes money too. Everything, to be with them, to get them here.
I want to thank everybody. Thanks to Linc. Thanks to the university. Thanks very much.
(edited for clarity)
Revised: June 18, 2014