Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reshuffled his cabinet Monday in an attempt to improve Aboriginal-government relations and deliver reconciliation.
The change will split the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairs. Former health minister Jane Philpott will be the Indigenous affairs minister and Carolyn Bennett becomes the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs.
Since he came to office in 2015 Trudeau promised a new and improved relationship between the federal government and Aboriginal people.
He says dividing the two ministries will help the government focus on issues faced by indigenous communities across Canada.
“There really are two levels of engagement with indigenous people, one is to create delivery of services, whether it’s ending boil water advisories, delivering on housing or health support to indigenous communities,” Trudeau said. “The other side of building a true nation to nation relationship in which the nature of the relationship between the Crown and Indigenous peoples need to be improved and updated.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said the shift is a sign the government is making an effort to rebuild and enhance relations with Aboriginal people.
“First Nations are working to move beyond the Indian Act and re-asserting our jurisdiction and sovereignty over our own lands, title and rights,” Bellegarde said.
Philpott praised the move and said it will do away with “colonial structures” aimed at controlling Indigenous communities and overshadowing Aboriginal culture.
“This is a historic day for Canada,” she said. “The work that is being done today, these are seismic shifts in the structures that oversee the relationship that Canada has as a representative of the Crown with Indigenous people in the country.”
But not everyone is pleased with the restructure. NDP Indigenous affairs critic Romeo Saganash called it a “symbolic change”.
“The long-standing injustices cannot be addressed by any symbolic change, and I reiterate the NDP’s call on the Liberal government to comply with legal orders to end discrimination of First Nations kids,” he said.
The prime minister however, is optimistic that dividing INAC will allow the government to focus and help solve issues that have been brushed aside in the past.
“This will allow us to do even more about going directly at the significant challenges faced by Indigenous people in this country and making sure they are respected, supported and able to drive and determine the next steps being made,” he explained.
Trudeau hopes the legislation to split the INAC will be introduced next spring.
“I’m very excited about this meaningful next step. As we move forward we will determine through consultations and working within government and across governments what the best path forward is and look forward to bringing concrete legislation possibly by next spring,” Trudeau said.