Bula Vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.
First of all, I want to acknowledge – with deep respect – the traditional owners of this land – the Semiahmoo First Nation – and to warmly thank them for their welcome.
We may live in different hemispheres but every Fijian can appreciate the power of your traditional ceremony, just as I trust you can appreciate the power of ours.
And I warmly thank the local Fijian community for reminding us yet again why ceremonies such as this will always remain at the centre of our own national life.
It is wonderful that we have all had the privilege of witnessing these two welcoming ceremonies and experiencing the profound sentiments behind them. As I said recently when we hosted a large gathering in Fiji of European MPs and representatives of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States: you don’t necessarily have to understand what is being said. It is the spirit of these ceremonies that has the power to move us. And I am very grateful to have witnessed an expression of the spirit of the Semiahmoo.
Friends, this is a great occasion – a gathering of the Fijian tribe in Canada, the Fijian family. Because that is what we are. An extended family stretching from our island home across the world to wherever Fijians gather. And it is a wonderful privilege for me – as the Fijian Prime Minister – to join you all here in Surrey with my wife, Mary, and other members of the Fijian delegation.
Today is also a great celebration of being Fijian because that is what we all now are. Fijians. Irrespective of who we are or where we come from. It is easily one of my Government’s greatest achievements – to forge a common identity for everyone born in Fiji. No longer are we identified as individual ethnic groupings based on where our forefathers came from. We are all Fijians. And can now come together as one nation, one people, to celebrate that fact.
We do so today in a unique way. Because we have brought forward our usual Fiji Day – the anniversary of our Independence from Britain and the birth of our nation 45 years ago. Instead of holding it here in Canada on October the 10th – the traditional date – we are celebrating it on August the 8th. And that means that I can be here with you all and share in your celebrations in a way that would be impossible on the actual day. Because, of course, I’m obliged as Prime Minister to attend our Fiji Day parade in Suva on October the 10th.
As a matter of fact, on the weekend after that – October the 17th – I will be in Australia to take part in the Fiji Day celebrations in Sydney. So it isn’t so much the date itself that matters but the fact that we can all come together as Fijians to celebrate it wherever we are in the world.
Friends, what does it mean to be Fijian? I’ve thought a lot about this and let me tell some of the conclusions I’ve reached. It means that you belong to Fiji and, most importantly, feel you belong. Whether it comes from being born there or being naturalized.
It used to be that only indigenous Fijians could call themselves Fijian. In fact, some of my political opponents still say the term belongs to them. But this makes no sense at all. Fijian is an English word given by the British to describe the inhabitants of what they called Fiji, which came from the Tongan name, Fisi. The indigenous name for Fiji is Viti. So using this logic, indigenous citizens should really be called Viti-an.
We needed to forge a common identity in Fiji. People in Canada of whatever background are Canadian. Americans are American. Australians are Australian. And so on. So it’s logical – apart from anything else – that a person from Fiji should be Fijian and that’s what we have done.
We now refer to the indigenous people as i’Taukei because that’s what they are – custodians of the land and indigenous customs. The First Fijians. But whether you are i’Taukei, Indo-Fijian, a kailoma of mixed ethnic background or are of European or Chinese descent, we are all now Fijians.
It is one of my Government’s proudest achievements. Because it is an absolute prerequisite for building any successful nation that everyone share the same identity. The same name.
So, Friends. We have broken down a barrier that had been erected around us for no good reason at all. We have strengthened our national identity. We have forged a more inclusive society. We have given everyone a sense of belonging. And there is – without any doubt – a new sense of pride now in being One Nation. One Fiji.
Because of this and my Government’s other reforms, we are also a fairer and more just society. For the first time, the vote of one person is worth exactly the same as any other persons. We have forged the first genuine democracy in Fijian history of equal votes of equal value. And our Constitution also guarantees equality of opportunity for the first time and gives every Fijian equal access to justice. So Fiji is an immeasurably better place than it was before my Government’s reforms. Everyone a Fijian. Everyone with the same chance to get on in life and fulfill their ambitions and dreams.
None of this has been at the expense of the i’Taukei. They still have their land, their customs and their way of life and it is guaranteed in our Constitution for all time. But we now have the level playing field we so badly needed as a nation to draw a line under the past. The lost years. The years in which we argued about who among us deserved more instead of working together as One Nation to provide more for everyone.
Friends, for me being Fijian means a lot more than just having a common name. It means the values and ideals we aspire to as a nation. It means loving one another and having a caring nature and a warm heart. Yalo loloma, as they say in the i’Taukei language. It also means being patriotic. Loving Fiji and thinking about the welfare of your nation and all its citizens and not just about yourself and those around you. And helping others, whether it is your immediate neighbor in Fiji, those in our neighbouring countries in the Pacific or in the rest of the world.
It means leaving no-one behind. Caring especially for the less fortunate, the sick, the homeless and the disabled. The child who is smaller than everyone else at school. The elderly lady living down the street on her own. Putting into practice in everyday life the teachings of all the great religions in our multi-faith society about how we should all treat each other. We are encouraging a spirit of enterprise in Fiji, of people taking care of themselves and their families. But we must never lose sight of our collective responsibility to care for others and especially the less fortunate.
Being Fijian also means caring for the land of Fiji and our seas. Keeping our pristine environment free of pollution and litter. Always using our natural resources in a sustainable manner, whether it’s our forests or our fish. And it means being brave and taking a lead in the world. Sending our troops into troubled places with the United Nations to protect vulnerable ordinary people. Protecting the planet we all share from the ravages of human activity. Persuading the industrial nations to reduce the carbon emissions that are warming our planet. And are causing the sea level rises and extreme weather events that threaten our way of life and the very existence of some of our neighbours. Always standing up for what is right and just in the world. Making the world a better place.
Friends, that’s what it means to be Fijian. So let us all rededicate ourselves today to the Fijian ideal. Recommit ourselves to living lives of service to others, whether at home or abroad. To build our beloved Fiji. One Nation. One people. United, prosperous and happy. And also spreading happiness throughout the world.
We also want to reflect as a nation who we are now, rather than who we were at Independence, by adopting a new flag. To replace some of the colonial symbols on our existing “noble banner blue” with a symbol or symbols more relevant to Fijians today. As you know, Canada has already gone down this path, replacing the Union Flag of Great Britain and shield with the beautiful Maple Leaf that has captured the imagination of people around the world. In Fiji, we have embarked on the same journey. And while we have extended the period of selection on a new design to the end of the year, the mood for change is strong. And I have no doubt that we will eventually settle on a design that all Fijians will be proud of.
Friends, it has been a long, hard journey to get to this point in our history. And many of you here today know just how difficult that journey has been. How much of the last 45 years we wasted. How much pain we inflicted on a great many of our fellow citizens because certain selfish elements said they didn’t belong.
I know that many of you simply lost faith in Fiji – lost hope – in particular, in the terrible aftermath of the events of 1987 and 2000. That you were made to feel unwelcome in your country of birth is the most shameful episode in our nation’s history. The anguish and despair that drove you from Fiji to find new homes in Canada can only be imagined.
You were some of our best and brightest. When we lost you, we lost a precious resource that robbed Fiji of decades of development. And anyone who doubts that should examine the similarities between Singapore and Fiji in the 1970’s and the differences between us now in terms of development 28 years on.
Yet it wasn’t just the brain drain – tragic as that was. It was the Fijian family torn apart. And today I want to say sorry to those of you who suffered. Who were made to feel like strangers in your own country. Who were obliged to seek new homes elsewhere. Leaving loved ones and friends behind. Coming to what must have seemed a strange and certainly cold place to try to begin again.
Friends, it is a wonderful example of the triumph of the human spirit – the Fijian spirit – that so many of you have done so well in Canada. You will be forever grateful to the Canadian people for opening their door and their hearts to you. And yet even after many years, I know that for many of you, Fiji still occupies a big place in your heart.
Today, I want to use this occasion to formally welcome you back into the Fijian family. To invite you to return. To perhaps again build a house in Fiji. To invest in your country of birth. To help us build the new Fiji. To fulfill its promise. Its destiny.
The time to do so has never been better. We are experiencing the longest period of economic expansion in our history since Independence. For the past three years, the Fijian economy has grown by four per cent or more. So the wave of prosperity is building and now is the time for those with ideas and imagination to ride it. To take advantage of the opportunities to profit from the confidence and optimism sweeping the new Fiji.
We now allow multiple citizenship. So you can be both a citizen of Canada and of Fiji and come and go at will. Helping to strengthen not only Fiji but its relationship with Canada.
Friends, Fiji is open for business. We have transformed the investment climate with a range of investment incentives and one of the lowest tax regimes in the Asia Pacific. We are transforming our infrastructure with an unprecedented investment in our roads and bridges and the upgrading of our ports. More water and electricity connectivity than ever before. And our education revolution and the free schooling we are now providing for the first time means that Fijian workers have never been so well equipped.
We are already the hub of the Pacific and are working hard to cement our status as both the “go-to place” in the Pacific and the “go-from place” in terms of ease of exports. And everywhere in Fiji, there are signs of national resurgence, whether it is the new resorts that are being built to accommodate our record visitor arrivals, the new businesses being established or the expansion of our manufacturing base.
We intend to make Fijian-Made goods and services a byword for quality and consistency throughout the world. And we are determined to extend the benefits of our economic expansion to every Fijian and especially the disadvantaged.
So I urge as many of you as possible to reconnect with Fiji – if you haven’t already done so – and join us as we build our beloved nation. As we right the historical wrong that was done to so many of you. As we work together to finally put an end to the lost years. To make Fiji finally, genuinely, the way the world should be.
Friends, in closing, I want to express my thanks to the Government and people of Canada, of British Colombia, the Mayor and people of Surrey and to all of you in the Fijian community who have worked so hard to make my visit and this wonderful day a success.
A very happy Fiji Day celebration to all of you.