New Indigenous Affairs Minister speaks reconciliation with sage in her boots, loaned eagle feather in hand

Carolyn Bennett said she will consider herself as the “minister of reconciliation.”

(A close-up of the bundle carried by Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to her swearing-in. APTN/Photo)

Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
OTTAWA—Before she was sworn-in as minster of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Carolyn Bennett placed cedar from Georgian Bay, a shell, sage and a small inuksuk into a bundle patterned like a Metis sash.

She was also given an eagle feather by Claudette Commanda, the grand-daughter of the renowned late Algonquin Elder William Commanda, to carry with her on her trip into the federal cabinet.

Claudette Commanda also put sage in both of Bennett’s boots “to make sure that I would be able to go forward in a good way.”

Bennett, a physician who represents an urban Toronto riding, gripped these items in her hands as she walked with the sage in her boots into the Rideau Hall ballroom for the official christening of the new Justin Trudeau government Wednesday.

Carolyn Bennett sworn-in as minister of the re-named Indigenous and Northern Affairs ministry.
Carolyn Bennett sworn-in as minister of the re-named Indigenous and Northern Affairs ministry.

She held the bundle when she faced reporters later in the day for a scrum inside Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

Most of the new cabinet ministers who were paraded before the microphones and cameras answered questions by saying they still had to study their files, but Bennett, who was a long-time Aboriginal affairs critic while in opposition, was ready with substantive answers.

And the main question that emerged from the cacophony of shouting reporters was on the Liberal promise to hold an inquiry into the high number of murdered and missing Indigenous women.

Bennett said the new Trudeau government wanted to get their promise right by first focusing on speaking with the families of the missing and murdered about their hopes for the inquiry. She said the Trudeau government plans to launch a pre-consultation process similar to what was conducted by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples which was triggered by the 1990 Oka Crisis.

“We have heard from many places that is the reason why the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples was successful, because the pre-consultation was very effective,” said Bennett. “It means we can’t just step out and announce an inquiry. It has to actually do the things that the families need. They want not only justice, they want support, but they also want to make sure this doesn’t happen to any other families after this. We have to end this tragedy, this epidemic.”

Bennett also repeated a promise Trudeau made during a town hall interview with APTN that a Liberal government would review all legislation to ensure it respected Aboriginal and treaty rights and reflected the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

She also said First Nation, Inuit and Metis leaders would be included in the development of new legislation affecting their rights and peoples.

“That is what we will do. As you know, ‘It is nothing about us without us.’ This means a partnership…First Nation, Inuit and Metis will be looking at legislation with us,” said Bennett.

Bennett will also be leading a renamed department. Aboriginal Affairs, known as Indian Affairs until 2011, will now be called Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

The minister said the name change came at the suggestion of Indigenous people she met across the country.

Bennett takes over a department pivotal to the existing construction of the relationship between Ottawa and Indigenous peoples and that relationship has reached one of its lowest ebbs in recent memory.

The previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper made no substantial gains on the file and spent hundreds of millions of dollars fighting Aboriginal rights cases in court. Its most spectacular failure came after First Nation chiefs walked away from a $1.9 billion education deal because they couldn’t accept the legislation that came attached to the money.

The Trudeau government has promised to invest $2.6 billion in new funding for K-to-12 education.

Bennett will also be confronted soon with an expected ruling from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on a discrimination complaint against Ottawa over its underfunding of child and family services on reserves.

The department also faces billions of dollars in infrastructure needs at the community level, from housing, to school buildings to water and waste water systems.

Then there are the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations the Trudeau government has also promised to implement.

These are but a few of the massive matters she will face which also include revamping the comprehensive claims process, rescuing the beleaguered Specific Claims Tribunal and coming to grips with a legal landscape altered by last year’s Tsilhqot’in Supreme Court decision.

Bennett appears prepared to take these things in stride.

She said she will also follow another piece of advice given during her travels.

Bennett said she was told to, “Consider yourself the minister of reconciliation.”

And that is what she said she plans to do.

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-Editors note: Story has been updated to clarify bundle was patterned like a Metis sash.

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7 thoughts on “New Indigenous Affairs Minister speaks reconciliation with sage in her boots, loaned eagle feather in hand

  1. straight talk
    We as indigenous people must be ready when these promises are coming we must have our people with proper education to be accountable to our people on the finances we are to get for new schools, housing, we will respect each other more if we can communicate this to our children, we need to make our people feel good and children playing activities they used to do. Certified teachers, Chief and councils with c- picks, committees with expertise in education, housing, stores, carpenters with certifications, electricians with papers. We still need our elders teaching our children our ways of sweat lodges, sweetgrass, the pipes Let us start caring and loving,

  2. The Vancouver Opera will be a performing an opera based on the stories of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women. The text is by Marie Clements. They are beginning to hold salons with families of these women, in order to make the opera more authentic. Contact Vancouver Opera by phone or website for details.

  3. The treatment of Indigenous peoples is a terrible blight on this land and we cry out for reconciliation. I am an average white Canadian and it saddens me beyond description that governments have failed over and over to do the right things, to take the right steps, to make the appropriate investments, and to create nation to nation relationships with the Indigenous people. I hope now that we can finally all move forward to a better, shared future.

  4. let us now continue with substance and respect
    address the lacks
    bridge the differences
    bring justice
    use soft power
    learn and love

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