Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Treaty 8 Grand Chief Arthur Noskey is hopeful that Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson has some “clout” now that he’s one of the few ministers to hold onto an unaltered portfolio in the new Danielle Smith government.
The incumbent United Conservative Party (UCP) was re-elected in the Alberta election May 29. The UCP lost seats, but still form a majority. Premier Smith named her Cabinet on Monday.
“I think it’s experienced leadership, and experienced leadership has clout in certain tables,” said Noskey. “I'm pretty sure that in the government Cabinet…those ministers that are still there as Cabinet ministers carry some of that clout in making decisions.”
Noskey would like to see that influence result in housing dollars for people who have lost their homes on reserves since wildfires began in early May.
Noskey says Wilson “reached out” Tuesday morning to discuss the approximately 200 structures lost on reserves. The greatest damage has been suffered in Treaty 8, with the community of Fox Lake, of the Little Red River Cree Nation, having lost approximately 100 structures.
“(Wilson) was also talking about trying to go to go to the Cabinet and trying to get a budget approved to build the homes,” said Noskey. “He’ll have an uphill battle, that's for sure, trying to get approval in the budget to meet those needs.”
In an email interview with Windspeaker.com after Wilson was reappointed to the position he has held for the previous four years, Wilson said, “Whether it is responding to emerging and active wildfire situations or assisting with recovery and relief efforts once fires have been subdued, Alberta’s government remains committed to supporting Indigenous communities across the province.”
Up to this point, said Noskey, the province’s commitment to First Nations has stopped at the reserve boundary, “so I think (Wilson’s) fight is going to be getting a budget passed to assist with the First Nations’ loss of homes.”
Noskey isn’t surprised Wilson reached out and he wants to believe Wilson’s commitment to deliver on a budget promise isn’t lip service.
“I guess we will know if there's going to be a change from past governments, a nation-to-nation relationship to the UCP, just recently elected, I guess, this budget will indicate whether they're serious with First Nations relationships,” said Noskey.
Dave Lamouche, president of the Métis Settlements General Council (MSGC), thinks it was a “good move” by Smith to keep Wilson in his position.
“Nobody's coming in new where they have to sort of familiarize themselves with everything that's going on here. (Wilson) can hit the pavement running with not just us, but probably the other Aboriginal communities,” he said.
Lamouche points out that Wilson played a significant role in facilitating the signing of a protocol agreement between the MSGC and the province.
“We've grown to build a relationship with him,” he said.
Rachelle Venne, chair of the Premier’s Council on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, is also pleased with Wilson’s reappointment.
It provides continuity in a process to implement an action plan to address the MMIWG national inquiry’s 231 Calls for Justice that began under Premier Jason Kenney before switching to Smith.
“From our perspective, (Wilson) has shown that he can listen and bring forward things that do make changes for the Indigenous community,” said Venne, who is also CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women.
Wilson said he was “deeply honoured and excited” to continue as Indigenous Relations minister, adding that much had been accomplished over the previous four years.
“I am eager to get started on a multitude of items going forward,” he said.
The Premier’s Council is working towards having more Indigenous women appointed to committees, boards and agencies, says Venne.
“We want to have an inclusive process that allows for Indigenous people in general, but more specifically Indigenous women, to be able to apply,” she said.
To that end, Venne is pleased to see Lesser Slave Lake MLA Scott Sinclair, the only Indigenous person in the UCP government, be appointed by Smith as chair of the Cabinet Policy Committee on Public Safety and Wellness.
“I think utilizing his skills and experience in anyway is a good thing for the UCP government to do,” said Venne. “He’d be a good voice for us.”
Lamouche, who grew up in the Slave Lake area, is also pleased with Sinclair’s election and appointment. He calls Sinclair an intelligent, hard-working man.
After the swearing-in ceremony of Cabinet ministers on June 9, Smith singled out Sinclair as “a Slave Lake businessman who brings his Indigenous heritage” to his new position as chair of the Cabinet committee.
Sinclair says he’s “grateful” for the appointment although he couldn’t offer Windspeaker.com any details on the mandate of the committee.
“I don't want to speak on it until I know…not just what the committee is about, but also what our mandate for policy is going to be going forward,” said Sinclair.
He adds he will be having a “sit down” with Smith in the next couple of weeks.
Sinclair will work with Peace River MLA Dan Williams, the newly-appointed minister of mental health, addictions and wellness, on the committee. They both understand the difficulties facing remote rural ridings, he says.
Sinclair believes it’s “very important” for there to be an Indigenous voice and face in government and wants to be a “beacon of hope” for Indigenous youth and children.
“I do believe representation matters and I think the premier has done a good job of backing (that) up with action and more than just words, which I appreciate,” he said.
Noskey is waiting to see if that’s true.
“It is not about (Sinclair’s) thoughts, it's about the UCP platform. And there is no way to get around that whether it's First Nations or First Nations MLAs, or whoever. It's still the party platform and if that's not changed or addressed then there's very little hope in their relationship with First Nations,” he said.
In announcing her Cabinet, Smith said, “Together we’ll form a government that will listen to all voices and represent all Albertans. We will serve Indigenous communities, multicultural, multilingual communities and Albertans from all walks of life.”
However, Smith’s 24-member Cabinet, down from the previous 27, has only five women (including Smith) and lacks ethnic diversity.
Wilson was a handful of ministers who kept an unchanged portfolio. Smith shuffled 11 ministers into new portfolios and named five second-term MLAs to Cabinet. She also rearranged a number of ministries.
Lamouche is also pleased that there are two other Indigenous voices in the Alberta legislature with the election of New Democrats in Edmonton ridings, Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse (Rutherford) and Brooks Arcand-Paul (West Henday).
“It's good to have those voices on both sides. I think they'll carry the needs, at least, of the Aboriginal communities,” he said.
NDP MLAs will be sworn in on June 19 with UCP MLAs sworn in the following day.
Never miss a Windspeaker article. Subscribe Today to our new Windspeaker Newsletter!
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.