Honouring #OurLifeblood with @itsinyoutogive

Irene Mills with Voyageur at CMH My keynote presentation for Canadian Blood Service's Honouring Our Lifeblood event at the Canadian Museum of History Monday evening was a very different one for a couple of reasons:
for one thing, my regular presentation takes just over an hour and includes a lot of storytelling that takes the audience on a journey that is as emotional as it is geographical as it is historical and cultural. For this one I was asked to keep it all to 15-20 minutes, which required a complete re-think and re-design of the presentation in both style and substance;
secondly, my role at these kinds of events is usually to provide a kind of entertaining, inspiring and broadly embracing connective tissue to the proceedings amongst an audience that has typically been focussed and inward looking in their seminars and AGM business and that kind of thing. These people were all about being connected to one another literally by blood - each of them taking "inspirational" to a whole other level. Honestly, I kind of thought I might only barely make any kind of impact at all amid such company. I was grateful to have been proven wrong.

This was not my first time presenting in the extraordinary Grand Hall at the architect Douglas Cardinal's magnificent Canadian Museum of History - though at least one of my presentations there was in the time when it was known as the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The towering six-storey curve of windows that form the exterior wall opposite the stage faces northeast over the Ottawa River towards the cliff of Parliament Hill and the Chateau Laurier. The room itself is shaped like a massive Haida dugout canoe, with the interior curve of the room appearing as the entrance to a majestic Haida village with totem poles, sculptures and murals along its length surrounding the stage and with natural rock formations making the transition between the audience floor and the elevation of the stage on either side - a kind of miniature coastline. Elsewhere in the room are other Haida artifacts - both traditional and contemporary, including the original plaster pattern for Spirit of Haida Gwaii by Haida sculptor Bill Reid. It is always extra special and, frankly, humbling to present Voyageur in this room, given the extraordinary presence and prominence of the legendary Golden Spruce of Haida Gwaii as the face of the guitar. But it seemed there was an extra layer of poetry in this particular presentation to this particular group in this particular room as I suppose you could say that the Golden Spruce was a tree with a kind of blood disorder - the lack of chlorophyll that made it so unique.

By the time it was my turn to speak, I'd already felt humbled not just by the room but by the honourees who came up to the stage to receive their awards: corporate and institutional partners, volunteers, community recruiters, staff and, of course, donors. One donor in particular I had seen enter the room with everyone else as the bus from the hotel dropped attendees off. She stood out instantly as someone who had come seemingly dressed for the Grand Hall itself as much as for the occasion. From her traditional woven cedar hat to her jewelry to the pattern on her dress, Irene Mills (pictured) wore her Haida heritage proudly. Irene was there to receive this year's award as a living organ donor for her Paired Kidney donation in March of this year - a donation that took six years to complete. It was an honour just to meet her so I was thrilled when she came up at the end of the evening and asked for a photo with Voyageur. Even more emotional for me was that while she held Voyageur and beat out a rhythm on its top, she sang the Haida national anthem.

Irene was just one of many inspiring people I met on Monday evening and with whom I was proud to share the stage. I'm so glad that the presentation seemed to resonate with so many of the attendees - perhaps because, as someone who has received diverse material donations from across Canada in order to showcase and share the lifeblood of Canada's culture and identity, they saw in the project a kindred spirit.

Special thanks to event organizers Gillian Magnusson and Jennifer McKay and their team as well as the staff and board of Canadian Blood Services who invited me to be a part of this very special annual event. Honestly, it felt like being invited to a family Seder for the first time. Thanks also to Patrick Walton from CBS, who brought Voyageur to life on stage during the presentation (along with all the other work he was doing at the event!); three-time Grey Cup winner, CFL MVP and CTV Morning Ottawa host Henry Burris for keeping things on track as emcee; and soundman Ray Montford (yes THAT Ray Montford!) for making Voyageur sound great in what can be an acoustically challenging room, no matter how beautiful. And, of course, thanks to all the honourees and other attendees who were the reason for this event - not only for letting me be part of it but for your inspiring work, dedication and sacrifice.

To find out more about Canadian Blood Services or to become a donor yourself, visit blood.ca

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