CALGARY (CP) - Canada has a developing world in its own backyard, with a number of aboriginal communities in a desperate state, Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean said Thursday.
In a speech praising the international development work of Engineers Without Borders, Jean said Canadians "can no longer ignore" impoverished conditions within their own country. "Let us admit, once and for all, that the developing world is closer than we think."
Jean said during her trip across Africa late last year, she saw many situations and needs identical to those faced by some Canadian aboriginal communities.
These include a lack of simple access to clean drinking water, the growing marginalization of the younger generation and the need to find a balance between ancient knowledge and the modern world.
Other large social issues - such as ongoing violence against women, the desperate need for adequate housing and the promotion of education as a means of growth and development - exist not only on the other side of the world but here in Canadian communities, she said.
"There is urgent work that needs to be done in our own backyard, and this work could be an example for the entire world. It should be part of making Canada a model global citizen."
Jean's first public appearance during her three-day trip to the Calgary area was the keynote address at the national conference of Engineers Without Borders - a group that helps bring technology to developing nations.
Several members of the association were part of Jean's official delegation when she travelled to Algeria, Mali, Ghana, Morocco and South Africa in November and December.
Jean said seeing the work that a handful of Canadian engineers were doing throughout Africa was an important lesson.
"We were born . . . and we live in an affluent country just by sheer luck," she told the more than two hundred young engineers from across Canada.
"And I strongly believe that with this luck comes a responsibility - an absolute responsibility - to create opportunities for those with the greatest need."
During the trip to Africa, which received little coverage back home, thousands of people turned out to welcome her wherever she went.
After she urged Mali's national parliament to enact a long-stalled bill that would let women own property, gain an inheritance and seek a divorce, a leading newspaper columnist in the country compared her to legendary athletes Muhammad Ali and soccer star Pele as symbols of black pride.
During her second official visit to Alberta as governor general, Jean will spend a considerable amount of her time with native groups.
On Friday, she plans to visit a family shelter located on the Stoney Nakoda Nation, just west of Calgary.
Saturday she plans to meet a group of teachers from the Siksika Nation, one hour east of Calgary. The teachers graduated from a University of Calgary's Master of Teaching program that combines Aboriginal language, culture and teaching traditions with mainstream educational practices.
She will also meet briefly with new Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and attend the opening night of a new Canadian opera called Frobisher.
Copyright © 2007 Canadian Press