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.