First Nations leaders were optimistic after Liberal Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada accompanied by Inuit throat singers, drums, a 13-year-old Pottawatami-Cree youth and the Governor General office’s acknowledgement that the ceremony was taking place on Algonquin land.
Trudeau’s “history-making” new cabinet, as the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) called it, features Jody Wilson-Raybould, who took office as the first-ever indigenous Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada, an office that “plays a role in almost every federal matter.”
Wilson-Raybould, formerly the British Columbia regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), was one of 10 indigenous candidates to win in the October 19 election, which toppled a nine-year Conservative Party hold on the government.
Hunter Tootoo, who won in Nunavut against incumbent Leona Aglukkaq, has been designated as Fisheries and Oceans Minister. Aglukkaq had been the country’s Environment Minister. Both are Inuit.
Wilson-Raybould is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation and is descended from the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, according to CBC News, part of the Kwakwaka’wakw people from the northern end of Vancouver Island and the British Columbia central coast.
Indigenous Peoples played a visible role in the swearing-in ceremony as well. Leading Trudeau’s procession into Rideau Hall, where Governor General David Johnston was waiting to conduct the swearing-in ceremony, was 13-year-old Pottawatami-Cree youth Theland Kicknosway, of Wahpole Island.
“Canadians from all across this country sent a message that it is time for real change, and I am deeply honored by the faith they have placed in my team and me,” Trudeau said just after being sworn in, according to CNN. “Canadians chose a positive and optimistic plan for the future, and we will immediately begin implementing our plan for a strong middle class.”
Trudeau also renamed Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada as the Indigenous and Northern Affairs Department and appointed Carolyn Bennett to the post of minister. She had been the Aboriginal Affairs critic during the Liberal Party’s stint as the formal opposition to the Conservative government.
Indigenous leaders nationwide were encouraged by Trudeau’s appointment of two indigenous people to his cabinet, a first.
“I would like to congratulate all newly appointed Cabinet Ministers to the Federal Government, and in particular, former B.C. Regional Chief Puglaas, Jody Wilson-Raybould,” said AFN Regional Chief Shane Gottfriedson in a statement, referring to Wilson-Raybould’s We Wai Kai name, which means “woman born to noble people.” “Puglaas has been and continues to be one of our great leaders from B.C., and she will meet and exceed any challenges that face her in her new role as Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.”
Indigenous leaders applauded the chance to finally reestablish nation-to-nation relationships with Canada’s federal government.
“Today marks an important opportunity to embark on a new era of reconciliation and partnership to close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations people and Canadians,” said AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “I look forward to working with the new federal government in the spirit of trust, respect and a renewed nation to nation relationship.”
Bellegarde also reiterated the hope that Trudeau will make good on a myriad of promises he made to Indigenous Peoples during the campaign.
“There were many important commitments made to First Nations during this election,” Bellegarde said in a statement. “Now is the time for action. First Nations are ready to work with the government to create a better future for our children, safer communities for our people and a stronger country for all of us.”