The Honourable Lillian Eva Dyck


December 10, 2020


Rose pursuant to notice of December 1, 2020:

That she will call the attention of the Senate to the career of former senator the Honourable Lillian Eva Dyck.

She said: Honourable senators, I wish to initiate debate on this inquiry, and this will allow time for those senators who, due to time constraints, were unable to pay tribute to our former colleague the Honourable Senator Lillian Dyck in the time that had been allocated for tributes. Thank you.

Hon. Yvonne Boyer

Honourable senators, I would like to pay tribute to Senator Lillian Dyck, a person who laid the groundwork for a better future for Indigenous women.

When Senator Dyck was called to the Senate, she immediately recognized the need for diversity in the upper chamber and believed it was her duty to accept it. She wasn’t afraid to take on this role and become the change that she wanted to see. Senator Dyck was the first woman from a First Nation and the first Canadian-born person of Chinese descent to be appointed to the Senate. Now she’s also the first Indigenous woman to retire from the Senate. She has rightfully earned the title of “trailblazer.”

For over 15 years, Senator Dyck has represented the province of Saskatchewan — my home province — and has been an outspoken advocate for human rights, particularly the rights of Indigenous women and Chinese Canadians. She pushed against racist laws that discriminated against Chinese people and fought for stiffer penalties in domestic violence cases involving Indigenous women. She was also involved in the passing of Bill S-3, a bill that addressed the sex-based inequalities of the Indian Act and allowed Indigenous women to pass their status on to their children.

She chaired the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples from 2015 to 2019, and has advocated for better education for Indigenous students. For the past 10 years, she has tirelessly fought for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and their families. She has accomplished great things, but she also had to overcome many barriers.

As a woman of both Cree and Chinese descent, Lillian Dyck has endured sexism and racism throughout her life. She remembers her mother telling her not to tell anyone that she was Indigenous, not to visit the George Gordon First Nation and to “forget about them.” Her life story has inspired many, including Indigenous playwright Kenneth Williams, who wrote the play Café Daughter to honour her journey and raise public awareness of the difficult realities faced by Indigenous people and Chinese Canadians.

Senator Dyck’s identity as a Cree-Chinese-Canadian woman was once regarded as an obstacle, but now we see it gave her an incredible, unique voice. She reminds us that the Senate should be a place where different perspectives are represented and valued, where sober second thought really means including everyone. Senator Dyck once said, “You don’t just live for yourself. You live for those around you.”

What an example you have set, my friend, and in doing so, you have led us all towards a brighter future. Thank you for your incredible contributions to the Senate of Canada.

[Editor’s Note: Senator Boyer spoke inCree.]

Good health, and travel safely, Senator Dyck. Meegwetch. Thank you.

Hon. Marilou McPhedran

Honourable senators, I am moved and honoured to pay tribute on the retirement of Senator Lillian Eva Quan Dyck of the McNabs from the Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan, and the first-generation Canadian daughter of a father who immigrated to Canada in 1912 from China and had to pay the head tax, equivalent to two years’ earnings at the time.

We have heard that Dr. Dyck was a pioneer among Aboriginal women in Canada in many ways celebrated by previous speakers, so I will just note that her impressive list of accomplishments includes attaining her doctorate and building her academic career in the sciences, honing the astute and incisive analytical skills she later brought here to the Senate.

I remember her beauty, dignity and humility when she was presented with a lifetime achievement award by Indspire. Just last year, she received a Women of Distinction Lifetime Achievement award from the YWCA in her home city, beautiful Saskatoon, just one of the many recognitions so rightfully flowing to her that I am sure will continue.

Alongside her research and academic work, the Honourable Dr. Lillian Eva Quan Dyck has remained available and responsive in setting a very high standard of public service. Just this week, I received an email from her with information that I found to be helpful. Senator Plett had us chuckling when he reminisced about Senator Dyck’s stern finger wagging, and I too know what it feels like to earn her disapproval. With gratitude and some considerable relief, I can report that so far, Lillian has eventually forgiven me for my infractions over the years. Indeed, the memories of times when Lillian has guided and supported me and so many others far outweigh all other times.

A few days ago, Senator Pate and I were recalling when, soon after we arrived here as newbie senators, we rushed away from a prison visit that had been convened by the Senate Human Rights Committee, chaired then by Senator Munson, and we sped by train back to Ottawa for a meeting of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee, known widely just as APPA, chaired by Senator Dyck. En route, we managed to contact by phone Indigenous women’s rights advocates, including lawyer Sharon McIvor, who has been litigating against the Indian Act for decades, to hear their critique of what was then Bill S-3, with a title that promised the “elimination of sex-based inequities in registration” in the Indian Act. That was on the APPA agenda that evening. With some scribbled notes in hand, Kim and I rushed into the APPA committee meeting late; very late. Our colleagues had already begun the process that, frankly, at that time seemed mysterious to me of reviewing Bill S-3 and deciding if any amendments could win majority approval. It seemed like only seconds after sitting down that APPA reached the crucial clause that most concerned the Indigenous women leaders to whom we had been speaking with while we were on the train, and I blurted out an amendment based on those scribbled notes on the train napkin.

If Senator Dyck had not been in the chair that evening, I doubt that what became substantial amendments to Bill S-3, and eventually Canadian law, would exist. That is because Senator Dyck chose to use her authority not to mock or undermine the sincere but inexperienced efforts of two rookie senators bringing to the table an amendment guided by the expertise of advocates for Indigenous women’s rights. Instead, she quietly and efficiently employed resources available to her as the committee chair to guide us to the point where the amendments were accepted by a majority of the APPA members, launching the process that would roll out for almost two more years, until August 15, 2019, when the amendments came into force. Dr. Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said on that day:

I stand in solidarity with the Indigenous women who have been working so hard for decades to end sex-based discrimination in the Indian Act registration and am proud that today all remaining gender discrimination has been eliminated from Indian Act registration provisions.

Time is limited, but I am honoured to use this opportunity to share with you the voices of some Indigenous leaders who wish to convey their appreciation on the record here in the Senate.

From the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action comes these words:

Thank you Senator Dyck for your crucial, steadfast and visionary support for the ’6(1)(a) all the way’ amendment to the Indian Act, which finally came into force on August 15, 2019. Your leadership helped to bring an end to 150 years of sex discrimination against First Nations women, and to make thousands of First Nations women and their descendants eligible for ’Indian’ status for the first time. FAFIA was honoured to name you one of the Famous Six, along with Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, Yvonne Bedard, Sandra Lovelace-Nicholas, Sharon McIvor and Dr. Lynn Gehl — the six who have all been leaders in the long struggle to make First Nations women equal persons under the law. Lillian, we at FAFIA thank you for being a leader, a partner in history-making work, and a friend. We have learned from you and we hope to carry your clarity, your principle and your grit forward. Thank you.

From Dr. Lynn Gehl:

Miigwetch Senator Lillian Dyck for your service. It is an honour for me to call you one of my Indigenous Famous Six sisters.

From the Union of BC Indian Chiefs:

We would like to acknowledge the years of leadership and perseverance of Senator Lillian Dyck as she served on the Senate of Canada. In her role she has worked tirelessly to address the crisis that is Missing and Murdered and Indigenous Women and Girls and to advance equity in the employment and education of women, Chinese Canadians and Indigenous peoples. She firmly established herself as a champion for Indigenous women’s rights, standing up to move Bill S-3 and redress discrimination that robbed Indigenous women of their status and identity.

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs would like to recognize Senator Dyck for all of the work she has done on behalf of all Indigenous people in Canada. She is a role model whose strength, compassion and wisdom many will aspire to emulate for years to come.

Honourable senators, when I arrived in Saskatoon over 13 years ago to join the faculty of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law led by then Dean Brent Cotter, Lillian and I had a friend in common, Senator Nancy Ruth. We reconnected quickly and she brought me into a remarkable Saskatoon group led by Indigenous women that welcomed all women who wanted to take action together, aptly entitled Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik, or Women Walking Together, a grassroots network of activists established in 2005 to raise awareness about the human rights crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and to provide moral and direct support to their family members. Each year, Iskwewuk organizes a Sisters In Spirit vigil on October 4. As Senator Cordy told us, this was the date when, at Lillian’s suggestion, the Senate stood in silent commemoration.

In her tribute, Senator Bovey mentioned the special evening when, with Senator Pate, we attended the premiere at the National Arts Centre of Café Daughter by Aboriginal playwright Kenneth Williams. Lillian told us after that brilliant and moving performance that it was true to her early years, and I have left the NAC that evening having new information about Lillian and being even more impressed.

On August 15, when the Bill S-3 amendments were fully activated, I was in Batoche standing on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River taking part in what has become a treasured memory of being with Senator Lillian Dyck and Senator Lovelace Nicholas. We stood on a path over 600 feet long that wound down to the banks of the river where our mutual friend Maria Campbell was leading the final ceremony for Walking With Our Sisters, the art exhibit that grew over the years into an ever-expanding travelling memorial for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls with over 2,000 handmade “vamps” — or moccasin tops — all unfinished, purposely not sown into moccasins. As the creator and curator of the exhibit Christi Belcourt explained:

The unfinished vamps represent a life cut short, and are as much a testament to those lost as they are to the love of the family members they left behind.

As I conclude, I need to mention another admirable characteristic of Senator Dyck — generosity of spirit. This evening, I’m wearing my favourite carved bone eagle earrings that some may recognize because I wear them often, especially on occasions when I need a little extra inspiration. Years before I arrived in this place, Lillian brought them on one of her trips to Winnipeg, and in gifting them explained that they were the creation of the famous carver Miles Henderson from Gordon First Nation, her home reserve.

Lillian, we’ve spoken about how strange these last months have been in marking the end of your tenure here in the Senate, and we wish you were sitting here with us as we try to convey how much you mean to us and how much your presence strengthened this place. I miss you. We miss you. I have a feeling that you’re watching as we speak about you and to you. Please know your leadership has left a gap here, but we will do our very best to honour your strength, integrity and courage and be better senators for it. Thank you, Lillian. Chi meegwetch, dear Lillian.