Posted on May 19, 2011

Minister’s Title Change Worries First Nations

Mia Rabson, Winnepeg Free Press, May 19, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper quietly changed a long-held ministerial title when he shuffled his cabinet Wednesday.

In a show of inclusivity, when B.C. MP John Duncan was re-appointed to the cabinet, he was sworn in as minister of aboriginal and northern affairs.

Until Wednesday, the cabinet position had been minister of Indian and northern affairs.

However the new term has a broader reach and recognizes the fact the minister is responsible not just for First Nations but also for Métis and Inuit communities as well.

“Changing the term used in the minister’s title from ‘Indian’ to ‘aboriginal’ better reflects the scope of the minister’s responsibilities with respect to First Nations, Inuit and Métis,” Harper’s spokesman Andrew McDougall said. “This title is more up to date and inclusive, consistent with the government’s focus on moving forward in our relationship with Aboriginal Peoples.”

He said the change has no effect on the minister’s responsibilities regarding any aboriginal groups.

It does not appear the department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada–commonly known as INAC–will immediately get a new title.

“In due course, we would expect the department’s name would change to reflect this new title,” said McDougall.

Changing the department name would be far more costly and include replacing everything from business cards of several thousand employees to letter head and office building signs.

McDougall said he had no estimate on what doing that would cost.

Manitoba Métis Federation President David Chartrand said the change is an important one.

“We have raised that with the prime minister in the past,” said Chartrand.

He said it often felt as if First Nations control the agenda of the department while Métis are left to fall through the cracks.

“I hope it’s a signal to us that the Métis are on the agenda,” said Chartrand.

First Nations leaders were not so excited by the change. Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said he will be seeking a clarification to ensure the constitutionally protected rights of First Nations remain intact.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Ron Evans said, “The government may state that this change does not affect it’s legal relationship with First Nations that is affirmed through treaties and the Constitution, but it looks like a symbolic movement away from our distinct cultures and people.”