Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to one of our colleagues who recently left this place a little sooner than expected, but in a manner that seems perfectly fitting for her: quietly, without fanfare, but with a lasting impact.
Despite her request not to have a formal period for tributes, I would still like to ensure that the retirement of Senator Sandra Lovelace Nicholas does not go unmarked. She has been a devoted champion for the rights of Indigenous women and girls, both before her appointment and through her work here. It would certainly not be an understatement to use the term “trailblazer.” She received the Order of Canada in 1990 and the Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case in 1992. Though she will be missed, I am very grateful for the opportunity to have sat with her in this chamber and to have learned from her.
A Maliseet woman from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, Senator Lovelace Nicholas was the first female Aboriginal senator to represent Atlantic Canada. At the time of her appointment in 2005, her name was already well known. It has arguably become forever tied to the issue of improving the rights of Indigenous women and girls, as hers was the name in the case taken to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1981, Lovelace v. Canada. This ruling, in her favour, was the catalyst that began years of work to amend the Indian Act in order to end the gender discrimination that impacted the rights of First Nations women and their children. Along with colleagues like former senator Lillian Dyck, Senator Lovelace Nicholas continued to advocate for changes to the Indian Act, drawing our attention to the consequences of this ongoing injustice. During debate on Bill S-3, she told this chamber that:
. . . Canada cannot disconnect the ongoing discrimination against indigenous women in the Indian Act from the current human rights crisis of murders and disappearances.
How fitting that she spoke those words as the truth-gathering process was beginning in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, another issue for which she fought.
Honourable senators, there have only been nine Indigenous women appointed to the Senate of Canada. But following the retirement of Senator Lovelace Nicholas, half of them — five — are currently in our chamber. Seeing this progress and knowing the senators who are now representing these voices, I do not doubt that the issues Senator Lovelace Nicholas steadfastly pursued will continue to be ably advanced.
Her first speech in the Senate was in honour of International Women’s Day, when she delivered a statement about the late Mavis Gores, another Tobique First Nation woman who advocated for gender equality. At that time, she spoke these words, which seem equally fitting to describe Senator Lovelace Nicholas herself:
Honourable senators, if it had not been for the strength of First Nations women in our communities, and women’s groups across Canada, we would not have been able to accomplish what was once considered impossible: The changing of federal legislation by women who thought they did not have a voice.
Your voices have certainly been heard.
Woliwon, Sandra, thank you. Thank you for being you. You will be missed.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.