Aboriginal leaders welcome new minister

Story by Lloyd Dolha

Aboriginal leaders from across the nation weighed in on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent cabinet shuffle and the subsequent appointment of former minister of Agriculture Chuck Strahl to the portfolio of Indian Affairs.

Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice was replaced by the Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon MP in the August 14th cabinet shuffle.

Ontario Regional Chief Angus Toulouse said he anticipates a positive working relationship with the new Tory cabinet and congratulated Stahl on his appointment.

“I am hopeful that Minister Stahl will take a pro-active approach in addressing First Nations issues,” said Chief Toulouse. “For a true partnership to exist, the determining of priorities and the development of solutions must be driven by First Nations communities and not be derived unilaterally from the minister responsible.”

The Ontario regional chief called on the new INAC minister to follow through on the commitments made to the First Nations of Ontario, noting that a number Ontario First Nations and First Nations organizations worked diligently with former INAC minister Jim Prentice to develop solutions to a number of outstanding grievances.

“I look forward to a meeting with the Honourable Charles Stahl as soon as possible to develop a respectful partnership that focuses on creating solutions to address the many chronic issues facing First Nations communities,” said Toulouse.

Nishnawabe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Stan Beardy also urged the new minister to follow through on recent commitments made by Prentice to deal with the unique challenges faced by Ontario’s remote First Nations communities.

“The Hon. Jim Prentice has recently paid more attention to the unique conditions of our 49 First Nations communities,” said the NAN grand chief, adding that Prentice accompanied him on a trip to Fort Albany and Kashechewan just the week prior.

“It’s important now that Minister Stahl continues this commitment to not only specific NAN communities such as Pikangikum and Kashechewan, but across NAN territory.”

But the leader of the Anishinabek Nation had “mixed feelings” about the cabinet shuffle but is still optimistic about maintaining the good relationship already established with the Conservative government.

“I have mixed feelings about this cabinet shuffle and in particular the changes to the Indian Affairs portfolio,” said Grand Council Chief John Beaucage, leader of the 42 member First Nations of the Anishinabek Nation. “”It has taken a great deal of work to establish a government to government relationship with the Conservatives. However, I’m very pleased with the current relationship and we’re optimistic that the momentum will continue under new Minister Chuck Stahl,” said Chief Beaucage.

In July, the Union of Ontario Indians became the first aboriginal organization in Ontario to establish a bilateral relationship with the Harper government. Beaucage and former INAC minister Prentice worked to develop a comprehensive approach to self-government negotiations, economic development and the establishment of a government-to- government relationship. Back in February, Beaucage and Prentice signed a self government agreement-in-principle with respect to governance.

“I look forward to working with Minister Strahl,” said the grand council chief. “I have a great respect for Strahl’s integrity and I’m confident that the relationship we’ve established will continue under his leadership.”

Beaucage said he will take the opportunity to discuss more challenging issues such as the new Specific Claims regime, addressing poverty and reviving the goals and commitments of the Kelowna Accord with the new minister.

Assembly of First Nations national chief said he too is looking forward to working with the new federal cabinet and Minister Strahl.

“The success of the Minister of Indian Affairs is very much dependent on a positive relationship with First Nations and we are ready to work on a positive agenda aimed at lifting First Nations out of poverty.”