Kluane Adamek has served as the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Yukon Regional Chief since January, 2018. She is a proud northerner and citizen of Kluane First Nation. Regional Chief Adamek belongs to the Dakl’aweidi (Killer Whale) Clan and comes from a diverse background with Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, German and Irish origins.
The appointment of Inuk leader Mary Simon as Canada’s 30th Governor-General is a vital step toward recognizing the significance of Indigenous peoples in Canada’s past, present and future. A northerner with decades of experience and a woman grounded in culture, she represents a true shift in Canada – and beyond.
We are all celebrating. In early July, Kahnawà:ke, Que., elected its first woman and 2SLGBTQ+ member as Grand Chief. And now RoseAnne Archibald is the first woman to be Assembly of First Nations National Chief. I agree with those who say this is an era of matriarchs.
This paradigm shift gives me hope, especially after a Canada Day unlike any other. There were fewer fireworks and less flag-waving, while orange shirts appeared to outnumber red-and-white ones in some communities. The nation took pause to reflect on the disturbing discoveries of children’s remains outside of former residential schools.
Canadians are increasingly recognizing the horror of their country’s deep-rooted colonial past and have begun looking for, and demanding, remedies. Now is the time for change.
One place where significant and meaningful change is immediately possible is in the Canadian Senate, which might be this country’s ultimate colonial institution. A remnant of the undemocratic legislative councils that governed the colonies before Confederation, the Senate was created both to represent the provinces, but more importantly, also as a check on elected government. Like the House of Lords in Britain, Canada’s Senate was created to safeguard the interests of propertied elites.
Following a series of scandals and a larger conversation about the purpose and nature of the institution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau disbanded the Liberal caucus in the Senate several years ago. In its place, he vowed to appoint only independent senators, which would be recommended by the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments, established in 2016. The effect has been positive, and already he has appointed 60 senators – a majority of its current members – in this way.
Further Senate reform should be Mr. Trudeau’s next step. He can reform the Senate to be not only independent but also Indigenous, which would mean a vital shift in how Canada is governed and power is shared. Indeed, Mr. Trudeau should ask the Senate advisory board to recommend only exceptional Indigenous candidates who are well-regarded by recognized Indigenous communities.
Transforming the Senate to truly reflect and include a majority Indigenous representation would be a significant gesture toward reconciliation. It would have natural legitimacy as a custodial body safeguarding the land and all peoples. In using his discretion to establish this new convention, Mr. Trudeau would set Canada on a new and more equitable constitutional path. “Indigenizing” the Senate could be among the Prime Minister’s most consequential legacies.
Of course, Indigenous perspectives vary and not all will welcome a dedicated parliamentary chamber within an apparatus some view as illegitimate. An Indigenized Senate would grapple with adequately representing the diversity of Indigenous perspectives, Nations and interests while preserving Canada’s constitutional commitment to bilingualism and representation of the provinces.
An Indigenous Senate would continue to scrutinize and improve legislation, while at the same time place Indigenous perspectives at the heart of Parliament and at the centre of our national conversation. It would exercise its responsibilities on behalf of all residents of this land – not only Indigenous ones.
With today’s 105 senators serving until age 75, the transition to a fully Indigenized Senate would happen over several decades. This would allow the Senate’s newest members to learn its traditions while also providing time for new practices to evolve.
In an interview before retiring as a senator, Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman and former judge Murray Sinclair referred to his vision of the Senate as a “council of elders” that would provide thoughtful, non-partisan government oversight. An Indigenized Senate takes Justice Sinclair’s vision at face value – and to heart – and considers that his idea might be applied literally.
Ultimately, reconciliation will mean ceding and sharing power. The Prime Minister, acting of his own initiative, could and should demonstrate his commitment to Indigenous people with this act of political imagination.
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