Guy Lonechild, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, says he wants to know more about a name change in the federal ministry that is now called Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. (CBC)

There is mixed reaction to a change in the name of the Indian and Northern Affairs Department to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development , a move that came Wednesday as the federal cabinet was sworn in.

"The decision to change the name ... was made without consulting with First Nations in Saskatchewan," Chief Guy Lonechild, of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said Wednesday in Saskatoon.

Lonechild said Indian status is very important to First Nations.

"We are separate and distinct peoples in this country," he said, adding he wants clarification on the change from John Duncan who was re-appointed as minister on Wednesday.

"First Nations need assurances that inherent and treaty rights continue to be protected," Lonechild added. "We must remind the federal government that our issues may be similar with other indigenous groups but our inherent and treaty rights is what makes us distinctive."

Leaders seek clarification

Both Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Mary Simon of the national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said they will also ask Duncan to explain the name change.

"To the extent that this might help clarify and reinforce this responsibility, we welcome it. But we are trying to find out from the government if there is a specific reason why there was a name change," Simon told CBC News on Wednesday.

Atleo said he wants assurances that First Nations' concerns will not lose their priority, as the government tries to be more inclusive.

The term "aboriginal" includes First Nations, as well as Inuit and Métis.

Like Atleo, Simon said she needs to know if the name change will affect the way the federal government deals with Inuit.

Disrespectful, says group

A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the change is meant to modernize the title and has no bearing on the responsibilities of the minister.

"This title is more up-to-date and inclusive, consistent with the government's focus on moving forward in our relationship with Aboriginal Peoples," Andrew MacDougall said.

At least one major group of First Nations communities in Ontario called the name change "disrespectful."

"Trying to lump First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples together might save space on the minister's business card, but it is disrespectful of the truly distinct nature of the communities with whom he needs to establish better relationships," said Patrick Madahbee of the Anishinabek Nation.

However, a Métis leader in Saskatchewan said he likes the change.

"It's a broader, general term and inclusive," said Robert Doucette, president of Métis Nation-Saskatchewan.

With files from the Canadian Press