The Canadian Politician (Toronto) – Indigenous leaders have come down heavily on Prime Minister Trudeau after it was revealed yesterday during the testimony of Gerald Butts, the former principal secretary to the prime minister, that Trudeau offered Jody Wilson-Raybould the indigenous services portfolio in the minor cabinet reshuffle in January. Butts who asked the House Judicial Committee to invite him to testify saying he had important evidence to share, indicated that Wilson-Raybould was moved to the veteran affairs portfolio after she refused to accept the indigenous services ministry. Afraid of losing control of his cabinet as prime minister, Butts said Trudeau had to move her to another ministry rather than leaving her at the justice ministry to avoid the impression that he was not in control of his government.
Butts further noted that her shuffle to the veteran affairs ministry was unconnected with her refusal to soft pedal on the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, the Montreal-based engineering company that has found itself on the wrong side of the law for bribing Libyan government officials to get lucrative government contracts. Butts told the House Judicial Committee that the prime minister was motivated by the fact that Wilson-Raybould who is indigenous, would continue the “reconciliation momentum” that had been put in top gear by Jane Philpott, who held the position before being moved to the Treasury Board as its president. Butts stated, “[Trudeau] wanted a person in Indigenous Services who would send a strong signal that the work would keep going at the same pace, and that the file would have the same personal prominence for him.”
However, indigenous leaders as well as pundits have a different view from the prime minister and were hardly impressed by his explanation. They stated that moving the former justice minister to Indigenous Services Ministry was “deeply humiliating” and demonstrates acute “lack of understanding and disconnect from First Nations’ world view.” As Indigenous Services minister, Wilson-Raybould would have had to administer the Indian Act which she was vehemently opposed to. “She said she had spent her life opposed to the Indian Act and couldn’t be in charge of the programs administered under its authority,” said Butts. One commentator likened the assignment to indigenous affairs to asking Nelson Mandela to oversee apartheid policies and programs. They contended that the prime minister ought to have understood the implication of his decision to shuffle an indigenous minister to such a ministry given the odious task of administering programs and policies she has had a lifetime ideological differences with.
This position was corroborated by Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who is the director of the University of British Columbia’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. She stated that anyone with a basic understanding of history would not make such a horrendous mistake. “Any person that had any kind of understanding, even a basic understanding of Indigenous relations with the Crown, would know that the most offensive and indeed racist legislation on the books is the Indian Act,” she said. The Indian Act, among other policies, allowed children to be taken from their families to residential schools where they were reeducated and punished for adhering to their cultural values and norms. Turpel-Lafond concluded, “Asking her to administer the Indian Act is not only inappropriate, it is deeply humiliating.”