Nfld. & Labrador

Labrador Inuit optimistic with O'Regan at the helm of Indigenous Services

Seamus O’Regan, who became minister of Indigenous services on Monday, said Indigenous issues are a passion for him.

Nunatsiavut president says O'Regan will be 'a very good help' to Nunatsiavut Government in new role

Minister of Indigenous Services Seamus O'Regan says his childhood in Labrador will aid him in his new role. (CBC)

Seamus O'Regan has the support of some Indigenous leaders in Newfoundland and Labrador as he begins his new role as minister of Indigenous services following a federal cabinet shuffle on Monday.

O'Regan moved to Labrador at "a very early age," and says some of the first people he met when moving there were the Innu leadership.

"Going to Sheshatshiu — and you think about it in the early '80s — it was just something I'd never seen before ... I didn't know people were struggling," he said.

"That left an indelible mark on me. Afterwards, my academic career — my undergraduate thesis, my masters dissertation, have all been on Innu political mobilization and Innu involvement in the Lower Churchill."

This is a big passion of mine and a big part of where I'm from.- Seamus O'Regan

O'Regan also spent five years working on land rights with both the Department of Justice and the Premier's Office, and while he admits that things have changed since then, he said he's still dedicated to Indigenous issues.

"With all humility, that's 20 years ago, there's been a lot that's gone on since," he said.

"But this is a big passion of mine and a big part of where I'm from."

Inuit leadership happy with appointment

Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe said he hopes O'Regan's childhood in Happy Valley-Goose Bay will give him knowledge of Indigenous issues that will benefit the Labrador Inuit.

Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut Government says he's optimistic that O'Regan's appointment will be beneficial for the Labrador Inuit. (Katie Breen/CBC)

"We're pleased with Minister O'Regan's appointment," he said.

"I feel a relationship will be built on how Labrador Inuit, and him as a Labradorian, [can connect] very positively."

O'Regan takes over the Indigenous Services portfolio from Jane Philpott, who was named president of the Treasury Board, a position which was left vacant when Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison announced last week that he was leaving cabinet.

We're optimistic that Minister O'Regan will be a very good help to the Nunatsiavut government.- Johannes Lampe

Lampe said Philpott was instrumental in securing important funding for Nunatsiavut, but he is hopeful that her successor will be able to do the same. 

"We were [working] with Minister Philpott on health and housing, and certainly the food insecurities and the things that Labrador Inuit have to go though, such as poverty, suicide, and so on," Lampe said.

"Minister Philpott is very action oriented and we're optimistic that Minister O'Regan will be a very good help to the Nunatsiavut government." 

Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (left to right), Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O'Regan, Justic Minister David Lametti and Minister of Rural Economic Development Bernadette Jordan attend a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Lampe said Nunatsiavut has experience working with O'Regan and are eager to work with him in his new role.

"Minister O'Regan seems to be very keen on doing his part to advance the many files that Labrador Inuit are dealing with and now that he is minister of Indigenous affairs, we look forward to working with him," he said.

"We had the opportunity to meet with him a short time ago, as he's also the provincial representative in the federal cabinet, to talk about the number of key files from the Nain airstrip, housing, energy security, food insecurity, and so on."

'Keep the momentum going'

Like Lampe, O'Regan credited Philpott and Minister of Crown–Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett for laying the groundwork for him, but O'Regan said he intends to "keep the momentum going" for Indigenous people in their communities.

"My first priority is reaching out to leadership — First Nations, Inuit, Metis leadership — and saying the pedal is still to the metal," he said.

"At the same time, I also know with great humility, that I've got a lot of listening to do, as I did in Veterans Affairs."

O'Regan also said his government is committment to reconciliation, something that he said is good for Canada.

"Reconciliation is something that will benefit every Canadian, making sure that we all progress," he said.

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