First Nations and Aboriginal groups express frustration over cabinet

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Dream CatcherTORONTO – The frustration of First Nations and Aboriginal groups to the actions of the McGuinty Government continue. From the moves in Northwestern Ontario by the Matawa Chiefs on the Ring of Fire, the critical comments from Nishanawbe Aski Grand Chief Stan Beardy on the cabinet, and now critical commentary from the Chiefs of Ontario over the decision to continue to have a Minister of Aboriginal Affairs as a ‘part time position’.

At the conclusion of the recent provincial election, Regional Chief Toulouse sent correspondence to Premier McGuinty expressing the need and expectation for the appointment of a full time Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in view of the many priority issues and challenges facing Ontario and First Nations relations. “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. Furthermore, we couldn’t be any clearer about our expectations and this dismissive response is equally clear” stated Regional Chief Toulouse.

After a short lived period where there was a full time Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, 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, as was pointed out by Regional Chief Toulouse in commentary during the election. “First Nations rights and relationship realities were largely if not totally ignored during the election. This isn’t a new attitude and it isn’t a productive one. Real and substantive steps need to be taken for this attitude to change.”

Regional Chief Toulouse noted the appointment of Minister Wynne to lead both the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and stated his expectation that this cannot be an indication from the Ontario government that First Nations governments are seen as anything other than governments deriving their power and jurisdiction from their peoples. “First Nations will not tolerate being treated as municipalities under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.”

“We will continue to do our part and put forth our best effort to work with the government of Ontario in a constructive manner. Ms Wynn has previously demonstrated leadership and a good understanding of our issues, especially in the context of education in her former responsibilities as education Minister.” said Chief Toulouse. “As soon as practically possible I, and my colleagues on the Political Confederacy, will wish to meet with Minister Wynn 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.”

Regional Chief shared that the appointment of northerners Rick Bartolucci and Michael Gravelle to the important Ministries of Northern Development and Mines and Natural Resources respectively is a welcome outcome, since both have developed some awareness of First Nations rights and interests in connection to mining and natural resources especially in the context of dealing with the rights and interests of First Nations in the north and to put such knowledge and awareness to use in informing more satisfactory decision-making on the part of the government of Ontario.

“Best wishes to Minister Bentley on his appointment as Minister of Energy and a thank you for his service as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in the previous cabinet,” said Regional Chief Toulouse. Regional Chief Toulouse added that Minister Bentley will be expected to apply the experience he acquired as Minister of Aboriginal Affairs to understand and act upon the meaningful inclusion of First Nations peoples and their governments into planning Ontario’s long term energy strategy and to ensure First Nations benefit from partnerships in energy developments across the province.

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