Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to have worked with the former Senator Dyck during her time in the Senate. I have learned so much from her over the years; sometimes it was the things she said, and sometimes it was by her actions.
Lillian is a brilliant, hard-working woman who never backs down from a challenge, as we saw with her work on Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex based inequities in registration), or on the day she stood in the Senate chamber to tell us of the harassment she received as Chair of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee on June 11, 2019, by several committee members. She spoke of the frustration that parliamentary privilege meant that nothing could be done about what had happened. Honourable senators, that took courage.
The former Senator Dyck was appointed to the Senate in 2005 by former Prime Minister Martin. She felt that she was being appointed because she was an Indigenous woman with a PhD, and there was no guarantee that if she declined the appointment that it would go to another Indigenous woman. On that basis, she decided to accept.
Last week, I spoke to former Senator Dyck and said, “Lillian, you have done incredible things in the Senate that have made a huge difference in the lives of so many. Of all the things you have done, what do you want people to remember most?”
She replied that it was the little things that were most important — the things that meant so much but that may not be remembered by everyone.
So I will tell you about some of the “little things” that former Senator Dyck has done. Honourable senators, October 4 is the Sisters in Spirit Vigil. It is a day to honour Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or made missing. On October 4, 2017, Speaker Furey agreed, at Lillian’s request, to have a moment of silence at the start of Senate proceedings. That moment was finally an acknowledgement by the Senate of what really happened to so many Indigenous women and their families. Three years later, as former Senator Dyck retold this to me, the emotion was very clear in her voice, because, indeed, it was an historic moment. So, Your Honour, thank you as well.
Former Senator Dyck also remembered one of our first-ever open caucuses when the topic was missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. At the end of the meeting, Lillian led us in singing the “Strong Woman Song”, which is sung in honour of Indigenous women and as a way to keep women strong. She admitted that it was her last public singing event.
Lillian was the first chair of Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples to have a smudging for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls at the committee. She was also the first senator and chair to ask Aboriginal youth to be witnesses at Aboriginal Peoples meetings. Later, Senate Communications invited Aboriginal youth to spend a day on the Hill to learn more about government and especially the Senate.
Lillian believes in the importance of getting Aboriginal youth involved and seeking their input, because it is their future we are talking about. This is why she has been involved with Youth Indigenize the Senate since 2016. We know that the fastest growing demographic in Canada is Aboriginal youth.
Honourable senators, Lillian Dyck is an incredible woman, and I have to say that her so-called “little things” are extremely important. She continues to work to stop systemic racism against Indigenous people, in particular racism against women. To the former Senator Dyck, my friend, you have made a difference. You will be missed. Thank you.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.