News / Winnipeg

'Offensive': NDP MLA slams province's plan to dissolve aboriginal issues committee

A provincial spokeswoman told Metro Thursday the Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet no longer exists.

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine considers the PC government's plan to dissolve the Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine considers the PC government's plan to dissolve the Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet "offensive to indigenous people" in Manitoba.

An NDP MLA was outraged to learn about the PC government’s decision to dissolve an indigenous issues committee and special advisor position she once held, calling the plan “offensive to indigenous people” in Manitoba.

St. John’s MLA Nahanni Fontaine previously liaised between the premier, cabinet and families of missing and murdered indigenous women as a special advisor to the NDP government for about six years before becoming an MLA.

She is now the opposition critic for missing and murdered indigenous women.

“To hear that the AICC (Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet) is dissolved or debunked and that they’re not instituting a special advisor is so problematic and really — as an indigenous person and as an indigenous MLA — is so offensive to indigenous people here in Manitoba,” said Fontaine in a phone interview.

In an emailed statement to Metro Thursday, a provincial spokeswoman said the government’s “former Aboriginal Issues Committee of Cabinet no longer exists.”

“The former Committee didn’t have a seat for any indigenous leaders or community representatives; only seats for NDP politicians to talk amongst themselves. We’re taking a different approach – reaching out to indigenous leaders and communities, building trust, and working cooperatively on shared priorities to deliver real results,” said the spokeswoman.

Fontaine said discussions among the AICC representatives involved coordinating efforts between departments to help indigenous people, whether it be families of missing and murdered indigenous women, people dealing with floods or people trying to get access to clean drinking water at Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.

“To sit there and try to frame it like people sitting around and have nothing better to do is so disingenuous and it is so dangerous. And again I can’t say how offensive it is that this government doesn’t even think that indigenous peoples’ issues — the myriad of different issues — are important enough to have a very specific committee of cabinet. It is so offensive,” she told Metro.

Fontaine later stood during question period in the Legislature Thursday and begged members of the government to reconsider.

In the midst of a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, the need for a special advisor to coordinate between the federal government and Manitoban families participating in the inquiry is “very critical,” she said.

“This may be the only opportunity that families have to have their loved one’s story and their journey as part of the Canadian record. And if this government isn’t getting on board and helping families to be able to participate fully in that, they are going to be on the wrong side of history. And I’m telling you that families won’t tolerate that,” Fontaine said.

In the emailed statement, the provincial spokeswoman said the Manitoba government “will continue to play a very active role” in the national inquiry, with representatives from the departments of indigenous and municipal relations, justice and status of women participating in bi-weekly calls to discuss plans with the federal government.

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