Indigenous leaders reacted positively on Tuesday after changes were announced to two cabinet portfolios focused on Indigenous affairs, and say they’re looking forward to working with the new ministers on reconciliation.
Ontario MP Patty Hajdu was appointed as Minister of Indigenous Services, which is responsible for the delivery of services to communities.
Quebec MP Marc Miller, who previously had Ms. Hajdu’s job, will now take over Crown-Indigenous Relations from veteran Liberal Carolyn Bennett. The file is largely focused on the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the government.
Ms. Bennett remains in cabinet in a newly created portfolio on mental health and addictions. But her departure from Crown-Indigenous Relations follows calls from Indigenous leaders for her to resign before the past federal election over a text message she sent to Jody Wilson-Raybould regarding the former justice minister’s MP pension.
RoseAnne Archibald, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said Tuesday that she welcomes the opportunity to collaborate with Mr. Miller and Ms. Hajdu.
“My hope is that these individuals, and all ministers in cabinet, will work alongside First Nations to find a healing path forward,” Ms. Archibald said in a statement.
Lorraine Whitman, the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said all of the new ministers have shown compassion in their work at the federal level.
“We are hopeful that spirit will continue as they take on their new jobs,” she said. “These appointments are good steps forward for reconciliation.”
Natan Obed, the president of the national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday that he is optimistic about the work that will be done with Mr. Miller and Ms. Hajdu and that they are “both excellent choices for those particular positions.”
He said they have worked on big files, especially during the pandemic, and have what it takes to work with Inuit, First Nations and Métis. He also said they can do heavy lifting inside government departments that are historically “very difficult to work with from the position of Indigenous peoples.”
Mr. Obed said Ms. Bennett served in her role for six years. There ”were definitely ups and downs” but he said he is very appreciative of her service and he looks forward to working with her in her new portfolio.
One of the major challenges facing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet this week is whether to accept a Federal Court decision upholding two orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal (CHRT) on Indigenous children. Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse said in a statement Tuesday that as an urgent step on reconciliation, the government should not appeal the decision.
When asked about the matter, Mr. Trudeau would not say which direction his government would take. He reiterated that Ottawa remains committed to compensation for Indigenous children. The federal government must decide what to do by Friday, which marks one month since a Federal Court judge handed down his decision.
In the previous Parliament, one of Mr. Miller’s responsibilities included taking questions on the government’s approach to the CHRT orders. He was first was elected in 2015 and has impressed some Indigenous leaders, who welcomed his appointment to the Indigenous Services file in 2019. He has also been working to learn to speak the Mohawk language.
Earlier this year, Mr. Miller’s department said it would not meet the government’s promise of ending all long-term boil-water advisories in First Nations by March, 2021. Ottawa will not specify a new timeline.
Ms. Bennett, from the Toronto-St. Paul riding, first served as minister of Indigenous and northern affairs in 2015 before the department was separated into the ministries of Indigenous Services and Crown-Indigenous Relations.
Ms. Hajdu most recently held the health portfolio. She has also served in the Trudeau cabinet as minister of Status of Women, and the Ministry of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.
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