Aboriginal Affairs needs stand-alone Minister

First Nations critical of new Ontario Cabinet

Ontario First Nations issued their contempt for Premier Dalton McGuinty last week after the October 20, 2011 unveiling of Ontario Cabinet fell short of expectations. Hoping the provincial government would follow through with an Ipperwash recommendation that the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs have its own dedicated minister and deputy minister, Ontario Chiefs and Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) confirmed their frustration with the appointment of Kathleen Wynne as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing as well as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

While at one point in history Aboriginal Affairs was a stand-alone ministry, in recent Cabinet appointments the portfolio has been treated as a part-time position and handed off to Ministers already in control of other portfolios. As relayed by Regional Chief Angus Toulouse, the idea that hard-hitting aboriginal concerns can be tackled without a stand-alone representative in legislature is hardly a productive one and the provincial government needs to step forward to ensure that First Nations rights and relationship realities aren’t being ignored. “The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has to be an advocate in Cabinet for First Nations rights and interests and that’s a full time job,” he said. “Furthermore, we couldn’t be any clearer about our expectations and this dismissive response is equally clear.”

Echoing Regional Chief Toulouse’s conclusion that the provincial decision to appoint Wynne as both the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing is an indication from the Ontario Government that First Nations aren’t a full-time priority, NAN Grand Chief Stan Beardy is also calling for a dedicated member of Cabinet to work with First Nations on any number of ongoing concerns.

“It is blatantly obvious that once again, Premier McGuinty is expressing his very little regard for Aboriginal Affairs and working to resolve concerns by First Nations people in Ontario, as he does not see the merit of having a stand-alone minister responsible for working with us,” offered Beardy who as NAN Grand Chief represents 49 First Nation communities in James Bay Treaty No. 9 and Ontario portions of Treaty No. 5. “With the enormous potential for development in the North, First Nations are now—more than ever—demanding their Treaty and Aboriginal rights be respected when dealing with matters affecting their homelands but Premier McGuinty continues to disregard those rights. It’s essential that there be a Cabinet minister at the Ontario level fully dedicated to work with us to create a mutually beneficial relationship.”

Despite being unhappy with Premier McGuinty’s failure to appoint a stand-alone minister to the provincial Aboriginal Affairs post, according to Toulouse, Ontario Chiefs are not attacking the leader’s decision to place the ministry in the capable hands of Kathleen Wynne. Noting that First Nations will continue to do their part to work with the government of Ontario in a constructive manner, Regional Chief Toulouse confirmed that Minister Wynne has “previously demonstrated leadership and a good understanding of our issues, especially in the context of education in her former responsibilities as education Minister”.

The Chief also confirmed that a meeting between him, his colleagues and Minister Wynne will take place as soon as possible to set out an ambitious agenda to address First Nations jurisdiction, Crown and First Nations resource benefit sharing and free, prior and informed consent requirements on the basis of treaties and inherent rights.

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