Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 146, Issue 44

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker


The Honourable Willie Adams

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to our colleague, Senator Adams. He was appointed to the Senate by the Right Honourable Pierre Trudeau on April 5, 1977, representing the Northwest Territories until the creation of his current region of Nunavut in 1999. He has been called the Dean of the Senate, as he is the longest-serving member of this institution. He has served with distinction in the role of senator for 32 years.

During this time, Senator Adams has been a passionate advocate for Canada’s Inuit community, not such an easy constituency to represent. The geographic complexities of this region alone make it an exceptional place for a parliamentarian. It is beautiful, but vast.

Who could have predicted in the spring of 1977 that Senator Adams’ life would take such a dramatic turn? That year, Prime Minister Trudeau decided that Inuit should be represented in the Senate by an Inuk, and that Willie Adams would be the first.

An article from the Nunatsiaq News of March 1997 tells of the circumstances of Willie Adams’ appointment. The Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was dispatched on a mission to screen three or four potential candidates. Senator Adams remembers that interview with the minister with great clarity, and he describes it in the newspaper with the dry wit we have all come to know so well and to appreciate in this chamber.

He said, “Why me?” He was surprised to learn he was even being considered. He had served two terms as chairman of the hamlet council, but gave it up as there was “not very much money in politics.” In his words, “Electrical contracting provided a better living,” but still he was curious.

“What does the Senate do?” he asked.

“Not much,” said the minister.

Some things do not change.

“What does it pay?” he asked.

The minister told him, and Senator Adams said, “I’ll take it.”

Senator Adams, for the entire duration of your career in this place you have given so much. You have ensured that the Inuit are consulted on important issues such as sovereignty, fisheries, mineral resources, land use and wildlife resources. You have helped us understand issues such as the preservation of language, culture and identity, as well as the struggles and ability of the Inuit to survive and enjoy what their land has to offer.

I would be remiss if I did not mention your enthusiastic support of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and your active role in the process involving the creation of Nunavut in 1999. They are part of your legacy here.

Senator Adams, as a senator you have brought this land and its people closer to us. You have been an educator, an advocate and a promoter of Inuit customs, culture and concerns. Your voice will be missed by your region and by your colleagues here on Parliament Hill.

In the article from the newspaper, Willie admits, “I still get a little lonely for the North sometimes.”

Senator Adams, may this loneliness for the North be replaced with more time in Rankin Inlet and treasured memories with your family who have shared you with us for far too long.