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Ontario Chiefs Both Chafed and Chuffed at Appointment of Part-time Provincial Aboriginal Affairs Minister

Ontario chiefs want a full-time Minister of Aboriginal Affairs; Premier Dalton McGuinty appointed a part-time one who doubles as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Ontario chiefs are pleased enough with the appointment of Kathleen Wynne as minister of aboriginal affairs. But some are angry that Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, who won a third term earlier this month, has kept it a part-time post.

“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,” said Angus Touluse, regional chief of the Chiefs of Ontario (COO), in a statement. “Furthermore, we couldn’t be any clearer about our expectations, and this dismissive response is equally clear.”

The statement recalled a “short-lived period” in which the post was full-time but noted that “in recent Cabinet appointments the job of Minister of Aboriginal Affairs has been treated as a part-time position. This is consistent with how First Nations issues were overlooked in the election process itself.”

McGuinty appointed Kathleen Wynne as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in addition to her assignment as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs. The new cabinet contains 22 members, down from 28, McGuinty’s office said in a press release. Jobs and the economy will be the focus as the world’s economy teeters yet again, McGuinty said.

Several cabinet members hold dual posts, a doubling-up that McGuinty implied is economic. But Ontario chiefs took it more personally than that.

“First Nations will not tolerate being treated as municipalities under the jurisdiction of the provincial government,” Toulouse said.

Toulouse was not alone in his ire.

“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,” said Grand Chief Stan Beardy of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN). “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.”

He alluded to the recommendations stemming from the Ipperwash incident, which stated that a Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs should have not only a dedicated minister but also a deputy minister. Ipperwash refers to the fatal 1995 shooting of Dudley George during a land-rights protest at a provincial park of the same name. A commission appointed to study the events surrounding George’s death made the recommendations in its 2007 report.

“The complexity and importance of aboriginal issues have outgrown the institutional arrangements dedicated to them within the provincial government. Accordingly, I have recommended that the provincial government create a ministry of aboriginal affairs, with a clear mandate and authority, with its own minister and a seat at the cabinet table, and deputy minister, and its own budget,” said Commissioner Sidney B. Linden in his statement on the 2007 report. “Creating this ministry would go a long way toward ensuring that aboriginal issues receive the priority and focus they deserve, and it would also herald a commitment by the province to a new, constructive relationship with aboriginal people.”

Other chiefs were fine with the appointment of Wynne, who previously served as education minister as well as transportation minister.

“AIAI welcomes Minister Wynne to her new position, knowing that she brings a great deal of experience to the table,” said Grand Chief Denise Stonefish of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. “We look forward to a positive working relationship with Minister Wynne to help find and implement solutions for First Nations. Some of the key issues that AIAI will focus on during this term include implementation of the Ipperwash Inquiry recommendations, Jurisdiction and Consultation, among others.”

The Union of Ontario Indians was also amenable to the appointment, expressing similar wishes.

“We hope this Liberal government will take immediate action on issues with First Nations education, health, child welfare, economic development and resource-revenue sharing which all have been long-standing issues,” said Anishinabek Grand Council Chief Patrick Madahbee in a statement.

He too said he wanted to see the Ipperwash recommendations continue to be implemented.

About Wynne herself, even the detractors were complimentary.

“Ms. 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,” Toulouse said. “As soon as practically possible I, and my colleagues on the Political Confederacy, will wish to meet with Minister Wynne 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 our treaties and inherent rights.”