Government Commitments

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

Mandate letter directs more cross-ministry collaboration for Indigenous Relations minister

July 31, 2023

Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson

Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson will be getting help from a newly appointed parliamentary secretary to meet the tasks on his agenda, including climate and health items, as outlined in his most recent mandate letter from Alberta Premier Danielle Smith.

“That’s going to help me out a lot to make sure that stuff doesn’t fall through. (That) I missed something because there just is so much going on,” said Wilson, who requested a parliamentary secretary.

On July 13, Andrew Boitchenko, serving his first term as MLA for Drayton Valley-Devon, was appointed to the position.

Boitchenko’s immediate task is to put a panel together of Métis settlement and insurance representatives to work with government officials on an insurance program for Métis settlements. “It’s going to be a big job, bigger than I thought, and we want to make sure it’s in place before the next fire season next spring. We’re going to start working on that right away and work through the winter to make sure that’s in place for them,” said Wilson.

The issue came to the forefront this spring when wildfires began tearing through the province causing evacuations of First Nations and Métis communities, as well as structural losses.

The hardest hit Métis settlement, East Prairie, lost 39 structures, 14 of which were homes occupied at the time. Estimated damage is $11.5 million. The province has committed $9 million to East Prairie through the Indigenous Housing Capital Program.

Working with Treasury Board and Finance “to ensure First Nations and Métis Settlements have access to insurance to rebuild homes and structures in the case of fire and other insurable losses” is one of the additional tasks in Wilson’s July mandate letter. He received his first mandate letter from Smith in November 2022 shortly after she won the United Conservative Party (UCP) leadership race and became premier.

Wilson points out that insurance is hard to come by for both Métis settlements and First Nations because homes are not individually owned and distances from services, such as hydrants and firehalls, are issues. “We’re exploring all sorts of ideas. It could be (combined) government-private. It could be self-insurance. There’s a lot of different areas that we’re exploring right now,” said Wilson.

He said the province is “committed to helping out” Fox Lake as well, the Little Red River Cree Nation community that lost more than 100 homes and 200 structures also in the early spring wildfires.

Wilson says he is working with the federal government and Chief Conroy Sewepagaham on how to get building material to the community which can only be accessed by river or air.

Also new in this mandate letter is direction for Wilson to work with the minister of Mental Health and Addictions on a “comprehensive continuum of mental health and addiction services and ensuring service provision is not disrupted by jurisdictional disputes.”

Already, the province has announced “recovery communities” to be built on Enoch Cree, Blood and Tsuut’ina Nations. Construction has begun for such a community on the Blood Reserve.

Newly stressed in this mandate letter is doubling the Alberta Indigenous Opportunities Corporation’s (AIOC) budget to at least $2 billion and direction for Wilson to provide recommendations to “potential expansion of eligible projects,” including health care, manufacturing, tourism and technology. None of those categories were included in February 2022 when AIOC expanded its mandate to go beyond natural resources to agriculture, telecommunications and transportation projects and related infrastructure.

“My economic reconciliation is what I call (AIOC),” said Wilson.

Last week, AIOC announced its latest loan guarantee with $103 million provided to Northern Lakeland Indigenous Alliance (consisting of Buffalo Lake and Kikino Métis settlements and Saddle Lake Cree, Heart Lake and Whitefish Lake First Nations) acquiring approximately 43 per cent interest in Access NGL Pipeline System operated by Wolf Midstream Canada. The assets associated with this transaction connect Wolf’s newly constructed, owned and operated natural gas liquids recovery facility near Mariana Lake to its separation facility in Sturgeon County.

“And that’s just the first. I’ve got two more big announcements coming out this summer, stuff that we’ve been working on…These huge projects take like a year to put together,” said Wilson.

While the potential projects all fall under natural resources, Wilson says he expects tourism will soon become a major economic driver for Indigenous communities.

Wilson says another “big push” for his ministry will be to address violence and economic security for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. He’s been directed to work with cross-ministry partners on this issue.

That commitment, he says, is demonstrated with $5 million in this year’s budget. The Premier’s Council on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and gender diverse peoples (MMIWG2S) has already met twice with Smith. In December 2021, Alberta’s MMIWG2S working group delivered 113 recommendations in the Pathways to Justice report based on the national inquiry’s final report on MMIWGS2S.

“They’re starting to work for that (Pathways) report now and start to implement those (actions) as they go along and we’ve got the money to back it up and do it now. That’s going to take a lot of my time and energy on that,” said Wilson.

Wilson has also been given direction to continue to work with Children and Family Services Minister Searle Turton on the implementation of An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families. The federal bill (C-92) gives control and jurisdiction over the delivery of child and family services to Indigenous nations.

Neither Wilson’s nor Turton’s mandate letter offers a timeframe for this work, which presently sees the province involved in only one tripartite coordination agreement. In April, the province signed Awaśak Wiyasiwêwin with the federal government and Founding First Nations, a group comprising of Loon River, Lubicon and Peerless Trout, for the implementation of and service delivery modelHowever, while the federal government committed $149.4 million over five years, no funding dollars were announced by the province.

Alberta was not a signatory when Louis Bull Tribe enacted its Asikiw Mostos O’Pikinawasiwin children’s law in February. In that bilateral agreement, Canada committed $124.8 million over two years.

Alberta joined Quebec and the Northwest Territories in challenging C-92 in front of the Supreme Court of Canada last year. They argued that providing services for families and children is provincial and territorial jurisdiction and that the federal government is overstepping. The Supreme Court has yet to issue its ruling.

Other Indigenous-related actions were included in mandate letters to the ministers of Service Alberta and Red Tape Reduction, and Arts, Culture and Status of Women.

Alberta Services Minister Dale McNally has been mandated to work with Indigenous partners “to finish developing and implementing Alberta’s online gaming strategy with a focus on responsible gaming and provincial and Indigenous revenue generation.”

Currently, five First Nations in Alberta operate casinos on reserve land. Wilson says many have expressed interest in getting into online gaming as well. “We’re going to be exploring options as to how that could fit in with the Indigenous communities,” said Wilson.

Arts and Culture Minister Tanya Fir has been mandated to work with First Nations that wish to repatriate items. She’s been told to “direct museums” to accommodate visits from Elders to identify artifacts and “to facilitate the ability for First Nations to exercise more autonomy, including over the care, display, possession and cherishing of their sacred artifacts.”

Presently returning Indigenous items falls under the 2000 First Nations Sacred Ceremonial Repatriation Act (amended in 2008) which establishes regulations for returning sacred ceremonial objects to the Blackfoot Nations. There is no formal process in place for returning Cree, Nakota, and Saulteaux and Denesuline ceremonial objects.

In September 2022, non-ceremonial items were returned to the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation under the 2000 Historical Resources Act.

“It means a lot to the people to see those things come back. I’m really excited to be working with the minister for that,” said Wilson.

By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,