There's a new minister of Indian and Northern Affairs today in Ottawa, but the country's North was shut out of cabinet as Prime Minister Stephen Harper revealed his inner circle to the country.

Jim Prentice, 49, a lawyer from Calgary and former critic for the INAC department for the Conservatives, now has a turn running the $6-billion arm of government.

There are no northerners in cabinet, as the three northern ridings chose Liberal and NDP members to represent them in Parliament. There are also no First Nations or Inuit people in cabinet.

Prentice, however, is no stranger to northern issues, having also served as a commissioner of the Indian Claims Commission for 10 years.

He's also a supporter of the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline project, and has criticized the regulatory process for the $7-billion project.

He has criticized the government for its treatment of aboriginal women, and waste in the administering of residential school abuse program funds.

Campaigned in Yellowknife

Prentice visited Yellowknife during the federal election campaign. At the time he tried to quell concerns the Conservatives would renege on agreements reached by the Liberal government in Kelowna last November to address economic and social disparities affecting aboriginal people.

He said at the time that a Conservative government would move on completing a devolution and resource-revenue sharing agreement with the N.W.T.

"What will be different is you will see results, you're not going to see empty promises, you're not going to see time commitments that come and go," he said in January.

While Prentice said during the campaign the Conservatives supported aboriginal self government, in May of 2005 he came out publicly against the N.W.T.-based Tlicho self-government and land-claim agreement. He said at the time the modern-day treaty would make Canada ungovernable in 50 years.

"The agreement clearly creates a segregated, racially-based electoral system. Which does raise Charter implications," he said last May, before the deal was signed.

Leaders welcome Prentice

Still, Prentice's appointment was welcomed by many aboriginal leaders including Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the assembly of First Nations.

"Mr. Prentice has solid experience in First Nations issues and has demonstrated a willingness to work with First Nations to further understand and advance those issues," he said Monday.

"I look forward to working with him as Minister of Indian Affairs to implement and build on the progress we have made to close the gap in quality of life for First Nations and to improve quality of life for all Canadians."

Jose Kusugak, president of Inuit Tapritiit Kanatami, greeted Prentice's appointment, and says he should be willing to be an apprentice for the aboriginal and Inuit issues.

"So, I think Jim Prentice is somebody that is really willing to learn about the Arctic," he says.

"He had a lot to do with the land claims processes and I am glad that it is Jim that has taken on that protfolio."

Northwest Territories premier Joe Handley says Prentice's opposition to the Tlicho deal shouldn't worry northern leaders.

He says Prentice will be more analytical than previous ministers, but feels he understands aboriginal issues and knows the North.

"He's a man who's been very familiar with aboriginal issues and with the North, he came up here a few years ago to, I think it was a Prospects North conference, he was up here during the election and certainly knows our issues," he said Monday.

The Conservative Party government will reconvene Parliament in early April.