An Indian Affairs minister who has been virtually invisible as far as the Native media goes since he was appointed 17 months ago, sat down for a "wide ranging interview" with the Canadian Press (CP) in mid-December to discuss what he sees as his new mandate to replace the Indian Act and change the way First Nations account for their financial actions.
In the weeks before that, Prime Minister Jean Chretien seemed to break the mold he established and maintained from his very first days in power of not commenting on Indian Affairs by saying he planned on addressing social justice issues in Indian Country. Political analysts say Chretien wants to tackle this issue to leave his mark on history, his legacy to rival his mentor Pierre Trudeau's repatriation of the Constitution or Brian Mulroney's NAFTA.
Pundits in Ottawa and elsewhere are speculating on who Minister Robert Nault's replacement will be when the prime minister announces his new cabinet when Parliament resumes on Jan. 29. Not on whether he'll be replaced, mind you, but on who his replacement will be.
National Chief Matthew Coon Come wrote to Chretien, not Nault, to say he's ready to get to work with the prime minister on fixing the problems that have led to the social injustices in Indian Country.
The CP interview was obviously an attempt to counter a Globe and Mail article where the reporter stated as narrative to the story that Nault was generally seen as having been ineffective in the portfolio. Nault seemed to be saying he's been saddled with the job of following through on former minister Jane Stewart's Gathering Strength initiative throughout the first 16 months of his tenure, but now that he's been re-elected, it will be his turn to call the tune.
We have to ask why the Indian Affairs minister turned to the mainstream press to make this announcement and to make his case that he should keep his job? In one way, it makes sense because Nault has frustrated reporters and editors at Native media outlets across the country with his lack of availability ever since he was appointed. Jane Stewart and Ron Irwin, his two most immediate predecessors, were immensely more accessible.
The day after he was appointed, his transition staff assured us that he was anxious to talk to Windspeaker. Months later, his permanent communications staff were surprised when we complained that we still hadn't heard from him. A year ago, at a Liberal Party fundraiser, Nault told a Windspeaker reporter that he would get in touch the next time he was in Alberta, perhaps even do a open line show on our affiliate radio station, CFWE.
Nothing ever materialized and we have to admit we now doubt the sincerity of every person we spoke to in the minister's office, including the minister.
So as much as we have a multitude of questions for Mr. Nault, we'd be satisfied with an answer to just two: Why will you talk to CP and other mainstream news organizations with their mainstream bias and not talk to the Native press? Are you afraid to deal with reporters who work the beat from a Native perspective?
Failure to answer them will be an answer in itself and a sign, we think, that it's time for you to return to the back benches.