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“Cautious optimism” greets news of stand-alone Aboriginal ministry
Robin Campbell, new minister for Aboriginal Relations, says the province’s relationship with First Nations is “government to government.”
“I think that’s an important factor that a lot of people forget. First Nations are a government onto themselves. So we as a government of Alberta have to recognize that, have to respect that and sit down with all the chiefs and come up with a plan that’s going to make sense for all Albertans,” he said.
Eriel Deranger, spokesperson for Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam, agrees with that assessment, but not the parallel drawn between the province and First Nations.
“We’ve always been under the jurisdiction of the federal government, which in some ways really identifies the fact that we are independent sovereign nations, we’re dealing with the federal government as opposed to the provincial government. Working with just the provincial government and not the federal government, it puts us more within the state than an independent nation,” she said.
However, Deranger won’t go as far as to say that Premier Alison Redford’s decision to separate the former Ministry of International, Intergovern-mental and Aboriginal Relations to create the stand alone Aboriginal Relations ministry is a negative move.
“It’s bad in the sense that it leaves the door open for more potential problems, but also it leaves the door open for potentially more productive dialogue,” said Deranger.
Campbell feels the move by Redford “makes a lot of sense.”
He points out that Redford’s three priorities, strong families and communities, securing Alberta’ s economic future, and ensuring world leadership and stewardship of resources, all have Aboriginal people playing key roles and a stand-alone ministry can work toward realizing those goals.
“Aboriginal people are basically an untapped resource and I think we have the opportunity through education and training to give the First Nations and Métis people the opportunity to be successful in forming their own businesses or working for industry which would provide stability within our families and our communities,” he said.
This is Campbell’s first ministry and his second term in office. He served as PC party whip. Campbell brings his experience as president of the local United Mine Workers of America to the position, which involves years of solving issues between different parties.
“I have a very good relationship with the Aboriginal people in my riding. We’ve been able to do some innovative and constructive things that have helped out First Nation and Métis but have also helped out industry,” he said. Campbell’s West Yellowhead riding has a significant Aboriginal population.
Shortly after his appointment, Campbell addressed the Assembly of Treaty Chiefs as well as met with Grand Chiefs Charles Weaselhead and Cameron Alexis.
Campbell said the mood with the chiefs was “cautious optimism.
We have some work to do. We have to build some relationship and move in the right direction for all concerned….We will move forward in the best interest of First Nations people and the province of Alberta.”
The future of the Alberta First Nation Energy Centre was broached by chiefs. However, Campbell says it is an issue that needs to be taken up with Alberta Energy, but he notes that Redford has said the issue will not be revisited.
Campbell is optimistic that the message he is delivering is different than his predecessors.
“I’m going into this file with an open mind. I understand the importance of the file because I understand the importance of the Aboriginal people in my riding,” he said.
“We really have hopes maybe something will change, but we’re not holding our breaths either,” said Deranger.
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