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Tributes – The Honourable Charlie Watt

Tributes – The Honourable Charlie Watt

Tributes – The Honourable Charlie Watt

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

Honourable colleagues, I rise today to pay tribute to our colleague and friend Senator Watt, who will be retiring later today from the Senate of Canada.

Before arriving to the Senate, Senator Watt was a key driver in changing the relationship between the Government of Canada, the Province of Quebec and the Indigenous peoples of northern Quebec.

In 1971, Senator Watt was elected as one of the first founding members of the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, now known as Makivik Corporation. With the support of the Quebec Association of Indians, Senator Watt and the NQIA applied to the Quebec Superior Court in 1972 for an injunction to stop the James Bay Hydroelectric Development Project, as the rights of the Inuit and Cree in northern Quebec were being ignored. This court action eventually resulted in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, the first major comprehensive land claim agreement in Canada.

Senator Watt was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau in January 1984. Later that spring, Senator Watt introduced a motion to create a special committee on Aboriginal peoples that eventually became a standing Senate committee. As the current Chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, I would like to acknowledge Senator Watt’s founding initiative for the committee.

As we have seen with his dedication in starting another special committee just this session, the Special Committee on the Arctic, Senator Watt leaves this place having changed the way we examine legislation and policy through these two very important committees. We will miss his voice not only here in the chamber but especially on those committees.

In 2006, the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples studied housing in the North, and during our tour of Inuit Nunangat, Senator Watt welcomed the committee into his community of Kuujjuaq, Quebec. Specifically, he brought to the attention of the committee the testimony of two extraordinary youth leaders in Kuujjuaq, Louisa Yeates and Olivia Ikey, both with the Qarjuit Youth Council.

I bring the story up because both of these young leaders credit Senator Watt and his mentorship in supporting them to become the leaders they are today. He has obviously been an inspiring role model for many youth.

To his family, especially his wife Ida, I thank you for sharing Senator Watt with the Senate of Canada these last 34 years. His service in this chamber as a strong advocate for all Indigenous peoples in Canada has shaped our debates, policy and legislation over that time.

As I mentioned previously, Senator Watt was the founding member of Makivik Corporation. He was recently elected as its president again, and this is the reason for his early retirement from the Senate.

Congratulations, Charlie. I wish you the best in the new position. It is in a sense a homecoming.

Now, Senator Day mentioned your accomplishments as a younger man. Well, I always thought you were younger than me, though you are a year older. I think you like that, but your youthful demeanour shines through and therefore I believe that in your retirement, as President of Makivik, you will be a very youthful and vital new president. Best wishes.