By Shari Narine
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Premier Danielle Smith issued the mandate letter on Nov. 16 that will guide the work of the Alberta ministry of Indigenous Relations and Minister Rick Wilson. It was among the final set of letters issued to ministers.
The first “expectation” as Wilson calls it, is to “continue to build and strengthen relationships” with Indigenous communities.
Wilson says that’s an inclusive way of referring to issues such as working with First Nations to implement their own child welfare legislation; tackling anti-Indigenous racism in the healthcare system; working with the education minister to ensure Indigenous people and issues are portrayed accurately and fully in the education curriculum; consulting more with Indigenous communities on policing; and focusing efforts on addressing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) work.
None of these issues were itemized in Wilson’s mandate letter, but he argues that their inclusion is not vague, but “to me it’s very clear.”
“When I had the discussion with the premier, I told her that was going to be my priority and she said, `Okay, let’s put that in there. Working with reconciliation is your priority.’ And that is my priority and I’m working with all the other ministries and you’ll see it as we did in the past. It will continue moving forward,”
said Wilson in an exclusive interview with Windspeaker.com.
“The very first words in (the mandate letter) are about reconciliation. Reconciliation is all around missing and murdered Indigenous women. That’s my main priority this year moving forward, and that’s put out in my budget and everything. That’s part of reconciliation.”
Rachelle Venne, chair of the Premier’s Council on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which was created in October, says she knows this work is personally important to Wilson and that it is “my perception” that he will continue to move forward on it.
Venne and the Premier’s Council had its first meeting with Wilson last week.
“He assured us that that is going forward and that our recommendations will be looked at. I take that as positive,” said Venne.
She says he confirmed the five-year life of the council. She adds that the council will be meeting with Premier Smith next time.
“As far as I know (Wilson) has to go by those mandate letters, but I have hope that it does include the work that I’m involved in. We’re glad to have him in there, that’s for sure,” she said.
Wilson’s mandate letter focuses heavily on prioritizing economic opportunities and working towards that end with the ministers of environment and protected areas; energy; and transportation and economic corridors.
His specific directives were listed as proactively partnering with Indigenous communities “on planning economic corridors and other major development projects for the mutual economic benefit of all”; supporting the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation, including recommendations to expand their programs; working to ensure Indigenous businesses and communities play a “central role in our provincial energy strategy and economic partnerships”; and continuing work to implement the First Nations Regional Drinking Water Tie-In Project, which got underway in 2019 with 10 water systems that would deliver clean drinking water to 14 First Nations communities.
“Pretty much everything in the letter is meant to lead to a safer and more prosperous reality for Indigenous people. I’ve always said, `When Indigenous people prosper, we all prosper,”’ said Wilson.
The mandate directives also contained “little misunderstandings,” Wilson called them, when they were drawn to his attention.
One directive called for using “Jordan’s Principle as a guide to ensure every Indigenous person has the same access to core services as any other Albertan.” However, Jordan’s Principle is specific to First Nations children accessing the products, services and supports they need without the delay of jurisdictional disputes. Jordan’s Principle does not impact adults.
“There may have been a little bit of misunderstanding around the wording there. In my discussion with the premier she really has a strong feeling toward Jordan’s Principle. She wants to make sure that when we’re dealing with kids, there’s no confusion. First thing we do is help somebody. Then we worry about who’s paying for it later,” said Wilson.
Another directive called for Metis treaties to be respected. No treaties have been signed with Metis people. Wilson said the self-government agreement that is now being developed by the citizens of the Metis Nation of Alberta could be viewed “like a treaty.”
He also said that the phrasing “Indigenous and Metis communities” in the letter was only made with that distinction, as Metis are Indigenous peoples, in order to “really make a point” that the relationship with the Metis needs to be strengthened.
As far as Wilson is concerned the mandate letter is representative of the priorities he has set as Indigenous Relations minister.
“You may not see it directly in there, but for me, I know what is meant when we’re talking about reconciliation, when we’re talking about Indigenous opportunities and partnerships, and working with other ministers. It may not be directly pointed out in there, but it’s meant and it’s been talked about so I know going forward exactly what I have to do,” said Wilson.
The mandate letter for the Minister of Indigenous Relations can be viewed here:
Shari Narine is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Windspeaker.com. The LJI program is federally funded. Turtle Island News does not receive LJI funding.