The Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples gives Indigenous voices a powerful presence in Parliament.
Whether dealing with border crossing issues for First Nations, advocating for the recognition of Métis identity or recommending changes related to the urgent need for better housing in Canada’s North, the committee plays an important role in representing Indigenous peoples in Parliament.
During this session alone, the committee has wrung concessions from the federal government to make legislation fairer to First Nations, Métis and Inuit across Canada.
When the government initially tabled Bill S-3, An Act to amend the Indian Act (elimination of sex-based inequities in registration), the committee noted the government’s failure to consult Indigenous peoples and urged it to strengthen the bill.
An improved version of Bill S-3 followed, but it maintained aspects of gender-based discrimination that the bill was supposed to resolve. After its own consultations with Indigenous peoples, the committee proposed an amendment to the bill that would truly eliminate gender-based discrimination in the Indian Act. The House of Commons, however, voted against the amendment — the Senate will consider whether to insist on its amendment when Parliament resumes in the fall.
Other issues that the committee tackled this session include the lack of suitable and affordable housing in Canada’s North. The committee undertook a study of housing in Inuit Nunangat, which led members on a fact-finding mission to Iqaluit, Igloolik and Sanikiluaq in Nunavut, and Kuujjuaq and Inukjuak in northern Quebec.
During their study, the committee learned that substandard housing conditions have led to serious health and safety issues like tuberculosis, mental health problems, and respiratory infections. In order to address this, the committee made 13 recommendations in its March 2017 report, We Can Do Better: Housing in Inuit Nunangat to improve residents’ living conditions.
The Indigenous population is the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian population and almost half of all Indigenous people in Canada are under the age of 25. As such, the committee is looking forward to receiving input from youth, among others, for its latest study on a new relationship between Canada and First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
The committee celebrated Aboriginal History Month with its Youth Indigenize the Senate 2017 event on Parliament Hill on June 7.
“This group of [Indigenous youth leaders] represents the future not only of Indigenous peoples in Canada, but of Canada itself. We are honoured to have them and humbled by their inspiring accomplishments at such young ages.”
“I'm struck by the passion they possess at such a young age. I'm so proud of how they have used their experiences and abilities to promote their culture and improve their communities.”
The event was comprised of two components: the Indigenous Youth Leaders Program and the Youth Forum. The committee met with nine Indigenous youth leaders from across the country, chosen from a pool of over 100 nominees, as these young people came to Ottawa to share their success stories with senators and to outline their visions for a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous people.
The Youth Forum was a new component of the 2017 edition. It featured workshops on reconciliation for more than 50 Indigenous and non-Indigenous youths from the Ottawa area.
When Parliament reconvenes in the fall, the committee will continue its study on a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. Members are planning a fact-finding mission to Western Canada.
This article is part of a series showcasing Senate committees — a report back to Canadians about the work committee members have accomplished during the past sitting of Parliament.
Committees are at the core of the Senate's work. They are recognized for their major contributions to legislation and public policy. Senator Muriel McQueen Fergusson, the first female Speaker of the Senate, called committees "the heart and soul of the Senate.”
In the last four years alone, over 7,500 witnesses have appeared before Senate committees, leading to the crafting of 531 reports and better legislation.
Through this work, senators speak up for their regions and give a powerful voice to underrepresented groups like women, people with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and linguistic and visible minorities.