British Columbia

Justin Trudeau handling of aboriginal affairs to be closely watched

Aboriginal advocates say that Canadians should give northern communities more respect.

Education and clean water are the top two priorities for aboriginal communities, say advocates

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau addresses the Assembly of First Nations general assembly in Montreal on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Aboriginal advocates say that Canadians should give northern communities more respect, noting much of the youth and aboriginal vote rested on the prime minister-designate, Justin Trudeau, promising to put more resources into issues affecting First Nations communities.

The October 19th federal election saw a record 10 aboriginal MPs elected and high voter turnout in First Nations communities.

"I think young people and people of indigenous descent  are now empowered enough to know that they can vote him in, and they can vote him out," said Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, vice provost of aboriginal initiatives at Lakehead University.

She says it's about time Canadians take First Nations communities seriously.

"The northern communities in this country are sitting on the resources that make sure that other people in the country have the lifestyles that they're accustomed to," she said. "They are really what helps make Canada Canada."

Valuable new faces

Prime minister designate Justin Trudeau has several aboriginal MPs in his caucus to consider when building his cabinet, including (clockwise from upper left): Jody Wilson-Raybould, Robert Falcon-Ouellette, Dan Vandal and Hunter Tootoo. (CBC)

Of the 10 aboriginal MPs elected, eight are Liberal and two are NDP. Wesley-Esquimaux says their experience walking in both the mainstream and indigenous worlds will be a huge asset to incoming prime minister Justin Trudeau.

"They may be rookie MPs in some instances, but they're astute and seasoned politicians in their own communities. Many of these people are leaders already so they have already had a hand in developing policy, they've been at negotiation tables."

Top priorities

Wesley-Esquimaux says improving education and water quality are the top two priorities for First Nations communities.

"We need clean water. Everybody needs water, no matter what."

She added that education gives aboriginal youth the ability to stand "tall and proud and strong."

"They need their education from their elders and they need the education that the western model offers."

Wesley-Esquimaux acknowledges addressing these issues will be tough, but she says Trudeau has had more exposure to indigenous affairs than any other prime minister before him. And most importantly, she says he has the desire to put resources into First Nations communities.

"I think he has the will to move that mountain, and it is a big mountain, right across the country."

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: Aboriginal and youth watching Justin Trudeau closely.


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