Hon. Brian Francis: Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to our dear colleague and friend Senator Josée Forest-Niesing.
As others have noted, Josée was a proud Franco-Ontarian who was devoted to protecting the rights of francophone minority communities. From her questions to the Government Representative to her motion on the closing of French university programs, Josée was passionate in her advocacy.
During her time here, Josée was committed to improving the lives and futures of Indigenous people. I had the pleasure of travelling with her as part of Canada’s delegation to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in 2019. Last year, we sat as members of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples during our study of Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She took so much pride in this work.
Colleagues, I want to tell you about a special moment I shared with Josée.
In October 2018, I had the privilege of being sworn in with her on the same day. That day, I brought an eagle feather with me, which for First Nations people is one of the most honoured and sacred gifts. Josée knew of the significance. As we were preparing to enter the chamber as the last two to be sworn in, I could see that she was nervous — something I later learned was not common for her. I offered a prayer to the Creator in her name and touched her with the eagle feather. I believe she found this gesture to be powerful and reassuring. When she entered the upper chamber, she was calm and filled with strength and determination.
Colleagues, we lost a dear member and friend far too soon. However, Canada is a better place because of her presence and influence. Josée’s warmth, generosity and humour will never be forgotten. She will live on in the hearts of all those she touched.
I offer my sincere condolences to her husband, Robert, her children, Philippe and Véronique, and her extended family and friends.
Wela’lin. Thank you, Josée, for your friendship. May the Creator continue to embrace you and hold you tight.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.