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The Honourable Dan Christmas

December 15, 2022

Hon. Raymonde Saint-Germain [ + ]

Colleagues, I want to begin by greeting our colleague Dan Christmas’s visitors who are with us today: his three children and two grandchildren. I also want to tell them how proud they should be of their father and grandfather.

It is with a heavy heart that I rise today to pay tribute to my esteemed colleague, Senator Dan Christmas, on his last day in this chamber.

It is indeed with a heavy heart that I speak today — heavy, because everyone who got to know Senator Christmas throughout the years can testify to the greatness of his spirit and his profoundly human character.

Dear Dan, for this, as well as for your undeniable qualities as a senator, you will be greatly missed. Since your appointment to the Senate in 2016, you have proudly represented the Mi’kmaq community as well as your province of Nova Scotia. However, we all know that your commitment to both go back far beyond your years as a senator.

Prior to your life in the Senate, you were already a leader and an organizer for the Membertou community and your people of Cape Breton Island. Indeed, they are happy to have you back full-time, and so are your three children and two grandchildren, who have many reasons to be proud of you as their dad and granddad.

If I had to describe Senator Christmas in only a few words, it would be as a man of heart and family. Due to fate, you had to make the choice to stay close to your people and fulfill your most important responsibilities — those to your family. While we are saddened to see you go, we can only admire the decision that you are formalizing today. As a very committed member of the Independent Senators Group, you have been a great pedagogue, a man of dialogue and mediation who, with a good reading of the environment, helped us work towards reconciliation and the understanding, as well as recognition, of important Indigenous issues.

Always a team player, a sound advisor and a very patient senator, it was truly a pleasure working alongside you. Please know, Senator Christmas, that you will be remembered within our group as a great connector between peoples.

As a member and Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples, you have contributed to impactful studies that are more than necessary on the difficult road to reconciliation in this country. You will have left your mark on this committee, and we will do our best to pursue your legacy, knowing full well that we have big shoes to fill.

Senator Christmas, while we understand and respect your decision, it is still a loss for the Senate. However, I would rather see it as a gain for your family and your community. Today, they regain a natural leader and a great family man. I wish you, on behalf of all of the members of the Independent Senators Group, a happy retirement from the Senate of Canada.

Hon. Patti LaBoucane-Benson [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today on behalf of the Government Representative Office to pay humble tribute to our colleague Senator Dan Christmas, who is leaving us at the end of January. While I personally consider his departure a huge loss for this institution, I understand why he must go home, because family is everything.

Senator Christmas took his seat in this chamber six years ago this month, the first Mi’kmaq senator to be sworn into the Senate of Canada. Prior to arriving here, he served as a leader in various positions in the Mi’kmaq nation of Nova Scotia. His work included active involvement in the implementation of Mi’kmaq Aboriginal and treaty rights in his province. His accomplishments and experience with and for his community in Nova Scotia were the perfect background for his work in the Senate. He brought a sense of calm to any and all situations, and his contributions during his time here have been many.

From my perspective, his chairmanship of the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples during its study of Bill C-15, An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, was pivotal. He led hours of meetings that included the testimony of dozens of witnesses. Let’s remember that UNDRIP had been adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2007. It was now, finally, before our Senate committee, 14 years later, and in the middle of the pandemic.

Dan’s calmness, dignity and the respect shown to his colleagues and witnesses were infectious. It was impossible for any one of us to misbehave with him in the chair — we tried — no matter how long or how contentious those meetings were. Debates were polite, disagreements were tempered and resolutions were negotiated.

I give all the credit to Senator Christmas for steering us — and effectively steering Canada — to finally codify the objectives of UNDRIP.

On a personal note, Dan, I will miss your wisdom and quiet strength of purpose, and the Senate will miss a passionate envoy for the rights and concerns of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people.

I will conclude by quoting the man himself during his third reading speech on UNDRIP. He stated:

This matters, colleagues, so much to First Nations, Métis, Inuit, rights holders, treaty nations and most emphatically to the pursuit of true nation-to-nation relations. It matters, critically, to Canada, as it wrestles with how to move forward in peace and friendship with Indigenous peoples.

Dan, I — we — wish you peace and friendship as you move forward. Hiy hiy.

Hon. Donald Neil Plett (Leader of the Opposition) [ + ]

Honourable senators, I also rise today to pay tribute to our colleague Senator Dan Christmas. As has already been said, the Honourable Dan Christmas was the first Mi’kmaq member to be appointed to the upper chamber six years ago.

Colleagues, as Senator LaBoucane-Benson has already said, I’m most familiar with the work that Senator Christmas did in his role as Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples during the study of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP.

Senator Christmas, I must say that the way you conducted the debates impressed me and all of us. You were steady; you were fair. As Leader of the Opposition, I appreciated that.

Colleagues, I want to share a story with you: A few years ago, not long after Senator Christmas was appointed to the upper chamber, I happened to be travelling in Cape Breton. I was there to watch some curling. Now, as I often do, I had a great conversation with my cab driver as he was driving me to my hotel.

I recall our conversation well. As all good Canadians, we began to chat about the weather, and why I was in Cape Breton, but our conversation quickly took an interesting turn when the cab driver asked me what I did for a living. I said I was a senator from Manitoba.

Well, colleagues, let me tell you, this spiked his interest. It was quite a remarkable moment. The reaction was sudden. I was suddenly distinguished and famous, but not because I was a senator. Why? Well, the first thing that the driver asked me was, “Do you know Senator Dan Christmas?” When I acknowledged that I, in fact, did, that is all that he wanted to talk about the rest of the way to the hotel — telling me what a great individual Dan Christmas was, and a great representative for the Mi’kmaq and also for Cape Breton.

Senator Christmas, knowing you is what made me noteworthy to this individual. You truly were recognized as a positive influence on this individual and, accordingly, all residents of Cape Breton.

The distinguished recognition I received that day stayed with me all this time. It is only fitting that I share that appreciation with you today.

Although saying goodbye to you in this chamber may be sombre for us here in Ottawa, I trust that back home, you will make more people happy as they get opportunities to see you more frequently.

Senator Christmas, I know the last few years have been difficult for you since your wife and life partner passed away much too soon, but I wish you God’s peace and blessings during this holiday season, as it is always when loneliness is felt the most.

Senator Christmas, it has been a privilege to work with you and to get to know you. On behalf of the Conservative caucus, I wish you the very best in your new adventures, and I hope and trust that you will be able to enjoy your fame back home. Happy retirement.

Hon. Jane Cordy [ + ]

Honourable senators, it sometimes happens that we get so wrapped up in the day-to-day business of meetings, emails and telephone calls that it is easy for time to slip by. We must make a conscious effort to remember what we are here for: It is the voices and the people we are here to represent.

Senator Christmas, you have been nothing but exemplary in that position. I am so delighted to pay tribute to you today for your years of dedication to your community, and for your time here in the Senate. At the same time, I am sad that we will miss that strong Nova Scotian — well, that strong Cape Breton Membertou voice in the Senate.

Senator Christmas, you were the first Mi’kmaq senator to be appointed to the Senate. You must have felt a sense of pride, and perhaps just a little bit of pressure. Rest assured, you were more than up for the task.

Recognized for your work helping turn Membertou into one of the most successful First Nations communities in the country, Senator Christmas, you spent a lifetime advocating for Mi’kmaq Aboriginal and treaty rights in Nova Scotia. Your work did not go unnoticed. You received honorary degrees from Dalhousie University, Saint Mary’s University and Cape Breton University; an honorary diploma from Nova Scotia Community College; and you received the National Excellence in Aboriginal Leadership Award from the Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Canada.

Senator Christmas, I saw first-hand your commitment to the issue of treaty rights when we both worked, last spring, as members of the Senate Fisheries and Oceans Committee, and studied the issue of respecting and advancing the full implementation of Mi’kmaq rights-based fisheries. Your experience, and your knowledge, was invaluable to the committee.

Senator, your voice will be missed around the committee table. After your appointment to the Senate, Senator Christmas, you were quoted as saying that you felt like an ambassador of the Mi’kmaq Nation in Ottawa, which is very true, but we were also lucky to have you as an ambassador of the Senate of Canada in Cape Breton and in Membertou.

Ottawa can sometimes feel like it is very far away from those of us living in the regions. By opening your senatorial office in Membertou, you have helped to bridge the distance between your community and the Senate. I’m sure that for members of your community, it has been extremely important to have that point of contact.

Dan, you are the epitome of strong leadership. You are not loud, but you are forceful. You are thoughtful and measured. You are fair. You listen, and you are respectful. People want to work with you.

Dan, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you and to get to know you over the last six years. On behalf of the Progressive Senate Group, I wish you all the best as you embark on the next chapter of your life.

By the way, I still intend to take you up on your offer to attend the Membertou powwow as your guest. Thank you.

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson [ + ]

Honourable senators, I am pleased and honoured, on behalf of the Canadian Senators Group, to pay tribute to Senator Dan Christmas — a gentleman and a gentle man whom I have been privileged to work closely with on the Indigenous Peoples Committee during his time in the Senate.

I first met Dan Christmas in May 2014 when the Aboriginal Peoples Committee visited his beloved home community of Membertou, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, during our fact-finding study of housing on First Nations reserves. Dan described for the committee how his community had become transformed — and an economic powerhouse — by liberating themselves from the Indian Act. Membertou is the poster child for First Nations bands across the country, and Dan Christmas, alongside Chief Terry Paul, clearly played a pivotal role over many years in that astonishing and inspirational success story.

I used the term “gentleman” to describe you, my friend, which resonates in my culture, but I also respect you as one who epitomizes all that I understand is meant by the term “respected elder” amongst Indigenous peoples: respectful and knowledgeable of culture and tradition; a good listener; and a wise, kind and compassionate man.

I have the highest regard for how you chaired our Indigenous Peoples Committee. You all know the important work of our committees is done by our steering committees. At the steering committee, Dan was always prepared. He had read and studied all the briefing materials and was lightning-quick to point out the salient points and omissions. As chair, he was scrupulously neutral and fair to all, showing respect and humour and always finding ways to bring us together to find common cause that we all could share.

These were important and difficult issues that we worked on, including Bill C-15, the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, fighting and challenging the government to achieve gender equality under the Indian Act, a massive undertaking still not finished.

Senator Christmas — Dan — you have given those of us who have been privileged to work with you a shining example of what it means to be a senator and a strong voice for your Mi’kmaq people and your region. I know you are a devoted father and family man — the reason that you are leaving the Senate too early.

On behalf of the Canadian Senators Group, we wish you well on your next chapter close to home and family, knowing that you have inspired us by your example in our duties to minorities and regions of this great country. Thank you. Qujannamiik.

Hon. Yvonne Boyer [ + ]

Honourable senators, I’m pleased to be here today to pay tribute to Senator Dan Christmas. We all know the impact that serving in the Senate can have on our families, especially those who must travel to Ottawa from far parts of the country. So today, I would like to begin this tribute by taking a minute to thank Senator Christmas’s children, Peter, Lacey and Gail, as well as his grandchildren, Rawlin and Arya. To them, on behalf of all senators, I say thank you for sharing your father and grandfather with us and all of Canada. His work has truly made a difference, and we are beyond fortunate to have benefitted from his wisdom and contributions for all these years.

Senator Christmas’s accomplishments during both his time in the Senate and his prior life just can’t be fit into a three-minute tribute. Through his work on legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada and as chair and deputy chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples, Senator Christmas played a significant role in shaping some of the most important legislation impacting Indigenous peoples and, indeed, all of Canada. He leaves not just shoes but gigantic shoes to fill.

I would also like to take a minute to talk about Senator Christmas as a community leader — an advocate of the Mi’kmaq community of Membertou in Nova Scotia. He is so dedicated to his community and his people that he has spent his entire professional life serving them in countless different capacities. For instance, I had the opportunity to visit Membertou in July of 2019 to talk with his community about the issue of forced and coerced sterilization. As I’m sure all senators can imagine, meetings on this issue are difficult and emotional. Throughout this meeting and in the conversations afterwards, I was able to see just how connected he was with his community and the respect and admiration he gave them and that he, in turn, received from them.

Senator Christmas will be remembered for many things, but for me, I will remember how, more than anything else, he was always there for his community and ready to tackle the tough questions and help in any way that he could.

Now, after serving his nation and indeed all First Nations, Métis and Inuit across Canada, he can go back to focusing on the most important job of all, and that is being a father and a grandfather. Chi-Meegwetch, my friend. I wish you well.

Hon. Brian Francis [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise to pay tribute to Senator Dan Christmas. A proud Mi’kmaw from Membertou First Nation, Dan is a devoted family man and friend to many. He is also a known leader and advocate for his community and our Mi’kmaq nation.

As the first Mi’kmaw to be appointed to the Senate, Dan is a source of inspiration, pride and hope to me and countless others who never saw themselves represented on Parliament Hill. I am honoured to have followed in his footsteps two years later. More than a colleague, Dan is a friend and mentor whom I greatly respect and admire. I am fortunate to have worked closely with him to ensure the rights, interests and aspirations of the Mi’kmaq begin to be heard and acted upon in Ottawa.

We, for example, encouraged colleagues to join us in calling the federal government to advance the full implementation of the rights-based fisheries of the Mi’kmaq and other First Nations after more than two decades of failure.

I often joked that people call us “double trouble” due to our vocal critiques. It is also not uncommon for some to mix us up. While not all of us look alike, I take it as the highest compliment. Who would not want to be confused with someone as intelligent, handsome and charismatic as Dan?

Senator Francis [ + ]

Colleagues, Carol, who worked for Dan for the past six years, told me she is blessed to have crossed paths with such an exceptional person. In reference to his retirement, she quoted a proverb that states, “We can make plans but the Creator determines or directs our steps.” As Dan begins this next chapter in life, I know the Creator will continue to guide and protect him.

Colleagues, I will greatly miss Dan’s presence and influence in the Senate but know that we will continue to work together for the benefit of our nation and all who live in Mi’kma’ki and beyond.

Wela’lin, Dan, for everything. You are one of a kind, and your contributions will continue to be felt. I wish you, your children, your grandchildren and the rest of your family all the best today and always. In the Mi’kmaw language, we do not have a word for goodbye. We say, “See you later.” So, Dan, nemultes nitap. See you later, my friend.

Hon. Colin Deacon [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise to pay tribute to this chamber’s first Mi’kmaw senator, Senator Dan Christmas. Senator Christmas once reminded us of where he had come from and described his focus:

As an Indigenous Senator, I can tell you that realizing true reconciliation is a key component to Senate modernization and an increasingly independent Upper Chamber. For many of us, beginning real, frank, and open dialogue about the critical and destructive laws, conventions and institutions in Canada’s history is essential to reconciliation between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

Senator Christmas knows of what he speaks. His home community of Membertou struggled to overcome the destructive constraints of the Indian Act and other systemic barriers. Their success was thanks to the fact that Senator Christmas, together with Membertou’s other entrepreneurial community leaders, dared to opt out of the Indian Act and create their own self-governance and regulatory capabilities. The opportunity created by Membertou’s leadership is often said to be a miracle. It was not a miracle. It was a product of leadership committed to adaptability, perseverance and accountability.

Here are just three examples from a countless list: First, to initially encourage major corporations to build facilities and services in their community, Membertou did the hard work of becoming ISO quality management certified. This foresight and overcoming the complex challenge of achieving this certification demonstrated the leadership’s commitment to hold themselves accountable to global standards.

Second, just over 100 years ago, the people of Membertou were expelled from their ancestral land on the Sydney Harbour called the Kings Road Reserve due to the efforts of a member of Parliament. Remarkably, the community bought back their land in a commercial real estate transaction in 2016. I marvel at the perseverance and strategic brilliance that resulted in the community reacquiring its ancestral home.

Third, with the support of an innovative charity called Oceans North, Membertou is now leading the net-zero transformation of the fisheries sector. They recognized that about 70% of the inshore lobster fleet works within 20 kilometres of the shore and so can be powered by battery electric systems. Membertou is demonstrating climate leadership by being adaptable.

Colleagues, we have been honoured to listen to, learn from and work with a key architect and enabler of this remarkable transformation.

Senator Christmas, your adaptability, perseverance, and accountability inspires us all, as does your graciousness, humility, and deep humanity. You’ve left a mark on us all. I want to sincerely thank you for your persistent dedication to entrepreneurship and excellence. I look forward to continuing to learn from you. You’re right, Senator Christmas. It’s about the children and the world we leave them. Wela’lin, Dan. Wela’lioq.

Thank you for the privilege and responsibility of allowing me to rise to express my profound admiration, appreciation, respect, awe, love and gratitude to and for our dear colleague and my beloved seatmate.

One month ago we celebrated one of your most recent recognitions, the awarding of your fifth honorary doctorate by Queen’s University. Today, we have the challenging and somewhat heartbreaking task of honouring you as you take your leave of this place to which you have contributed your outstanding and unparalleled First Nations leadership and your countless contributions with and for Indigenous peoples that has always been rooted in the context of kindness, compassion and love, and always in such a calm, quiet, caring manner and so wisely.

When I first visited Membertou First Nation, it was with your cousin Junior Marshall, and the community was struggling on the brink of bankruptcy. Dan’s leadership — your leadership — has been well recognized, as we just heard from so many, as the driving force in helping Membertou flourish into a thriving and vibrant community.

When I had the privilege of last visiting Membertou, you were incredibly and so characteristically generous and took the time to show me around and introduce me to the many folks who so warmly greeted their Senator Dan, whether in your home, Senate office at the mall, the cultural centre, anywhere and everywhere we ventured into the community.

Sitting beside you here and with you in the Indigenous Peoples Committee, I have learned and grown thanks to your brilliant interventions, quiet but oh-so-clear leadership, calm diplomacy and effective advocacy. I love how you are always guided by immense kindness, seemingly endless compassion and patience and your very generous heart.

You are the epitome of inspirational leadership, coalition building and courageous advocacy as all your life you have worked tirelessly to address the persistent challenges that too many face in the hands of discriminatory attitudes and systems that persist.

I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet your beloved and so lovely and talented Dozay and your equally talented and fabulous children and precious grandchildren. Thank you for joining us here today, Peter, Lacey, Rawlin, Arya, Gail and wee Wastow. We owe you, all of your family and community, an immense debt of appreciation for sharing your spectacular tata’t and umijgamijl with us for these last six years. We will miss him, his profound wisdom, his clear, kind, patient and thoughtful ideas and the incredible example and inspiration he is to each and all of us. Wela’lin, chi-meegwetch, thank you.

Hon. Mary Coyle [ + ]

Honourable senators, family, friends of our retiring colleague, we gather today to celebrate Canada’s first Mi’kmaq senator, the honourable, formidable and highly lovable Dan Christmas. Recently, while discussing Senator Christmas with Al Fleming, the word “gravitas” came to my mind. Gravitas was one of the ancient Roman virtues that denotes seriousness, dignity and importance and connotes restraint and moral rigour. It conveys a sense of responsibility and commitment to the task and in Ancient Rome was appreciated as an ideal characteristic in leaders.

Colleagues, Senator Dan Christmas, the intelligent, humble, kind and highly effective leader from Membertou in Unama’ki, embodies gravitas and inspires each one of us to be better people and to undertake our responsibilities, as he does, with wisdom and care.

In his 2017 Father Greg MacLeod Lecture, Dan said:

Perhaps the greatest thing I’ve learned is that to be an effective parliamentarian means having to speak truth to power.

Not by bellowing from a high horse, or prescribing from a position of power and entitlement . . . but by working diligently to provoke meaningful and pragmatic dialogue — not necessarily to dictate a litany of complaints about what is wrong but rather working with others to determine options for the right way forward.

Colleagues, Senator Dan Christmas came to us having had a successful career as a change maker and he heightened that trajectory here in Canada’s upper chamber, contributing to positive change through his roles as Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Indigenous Peoples; ushering into law Bill C-15, the foundational UNDRIP act; his effective sponsorship of Bill C-68, modernizing the Fisheries Act; his important work on the Mi’kmaq moderate livelihood fishery and many other contributions.

For us, Senator Christmas has a guide, a hand extended, helping to point us in the right direction.

In June 2021, remarking on the tragic discovery of the 215 unmarked graves in Kamloops, Dan said:

Today, Canada is a nation awash in a tidal wave of tears, and we must let them flow. Our people, my people and yes, your people . . . are steeped in grief and sorrow. We mourn our lost babies, our lost angels, our lost culture, our lost freedoms, the disassociation from our lands and traditions and the way that we must endlessly struggle to convince Canada to understand, to appreciate and to embrace who we are and to what we continue to aspire.

Senator Dan Christmas, you are, in Mi’kmaq, Kepmi-de’lmut Nikan-es — a highly respected leader. My friend Dan, your legacy is vast. We all thank you. I’m honoured to know you and I wish you and your beautiful family every happiness. Wela’lin, Dan.

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