The latest Minister of Indian Affairs Robert Nault is the 71st top dog in charge of First Nations Peoples. While some First Nations may not know the new Minister he has the experience to handle the job and seems to be eager to start.

Nault began his federal political career in Kenora-Rainy River riding. In that riding there are 51 First Nations. “The highest of any MP (Member of Parliament) in Canada”, says Nault. He was first elected to parliament In November 21, 1988, eleven years ago.

Before his recent appointment as Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, Nault was an opposition Associate Critic for Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs. Other positions have included Chairman of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources and Chairman of the Government Task Force on CN Commercialization, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labor, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development and he is also currently on the Standing Committee on Health.

All his past experience should do him well in serving as the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs. The Nation caught up to him while he was on the road touring his riding in Ontario. He is married to wife Lana Nault and has two children, Samantha and Daniel.

What would you consider some of the outstanding issues in the late 80’s when you were with the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs?
I think the issues then were post-secondary education. There were some problems with land claims. We dealt with a number of those. Stony Kettle Point was one, the Inuit who were moved from northern Quebec to the High Arctic and the standoff at Oka. I think the bigger picture issues we dealt with were band funding and housing. Not so much economic development in those days but the specific land claims policy and the removal of the community self-government based process because of the lack of results with that. That’s a few things that come to mind. You have to understand this was a little while ago.

Do you think some of these issues will be a part of your term as the new Minister?
No. I think we’ve moved on with the initiatives of partnership with the Federal Government. The First Nations, the Government and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples are part of Gathering Strength. It’s moved the relationship father along then it was in those days. We’re now getting into things that are more involved. For example we’re now looking at economic development as the creation of employment for young people as a very large part of the agenda. That wasn’t even talked about in those days.

You’re looking at employment and the youth?
That’s part of it. The whole relationship and the framework of “Gathering Strength” is to renew the relationship to a point where we rebuild respect and a relationship of government to government. The first phase of “Gathering Strength” was to deal with healing and building healthy communities to deal with the grievances of the past. Now we’re into the second phase and starting to deal with the issues of land and resources. First Nations having direct involvement in wealth creation and being part of the mainstream economy. You can’t have those types of discussions without involving First Nation’s youth and their abilities to be front and center. They will be the leaders of the future and we are aware of the very large youth population in the Aboriginal communities.

When you say wealth sharing are we talking revenue sharing?
It certainly is. You can’t get away from the discussion of for example resource agreements with the other levels of government and the private sector. It has to be a form of wealth sharing and how that is articulated in terms of what it means is really a decision that would be arrived in negotiations between the First Nations and the different players in recognition of “Sparrow” (court case) and court rulings which have said First Nations should be consulted and involved in resource allocation and conservation and all the other important features. I see the whole issue of wealth sharing as one that doesn’t have to be pinpointed to just royalties but a number of other things that can be of benefit to the community or communities in the area.

Would you be looking at economic partners where the First Nations contribute a
certain amount as part of the exploitation?
Certainly as part of the involvement. The whole issue of land management, resource extraction, conservation and environmental sustainability are all tied together. That’s why First Nations should be a true partner. We shouldn’t use the term partnership too loosely. I think partner really means that you are involved and to the point of ownership if it’s the wish of the communities or individual community.

Will you be going through the RCAP report? I know some people in the past have said this hasn’t really been done yet?
I would beg to differ. The “Gathering Strength” initiative and our interest in moving ahead on a number of fronts is in response to a number of recommendations of the Commission. I personally am going to as part of my process as a new minister coming in will be doing an exercise with my department on where we are with the RCAP recommendations and what we have done and not done. That is my intention as a new Minister. But what I see having the honour to represent 51 First Nations myself is I have been involved in this for a number of years. I’m the member of Kenora-Rainy River and I have the largest number of First Nations in my riding of any Member of Parliament in Canada. I am quite accustomed to being involved with dealing with chiefs and councils, grand Chiefs. My region has treaty 9, 5 and 3 in it. So I don’t come at the new job with a lack of grounding. I’ve spent a lot of time with the Elders and the leadership talking about things we believe are important for our region. I hope to be able to extend that to regions like yours. Northern Quebec has very similar way of life to northern Ontario. So we probably have a lot more in common than you think. I have been involved in Aboriginal affairs since day one when I was elected eleven years again in November.

Is there any message you would like to give?
I think the message that has to be sent from any new Minister that has an interest in building a relationship with Aboriginal People is that we have a lot of hard work to do but we have a lot of goodwill out there. There is political will from the Government of Canada through this Minister and from the leadership out there. I think we have to get on it and start moving and not spend too much time navel gazing. Let’s get on with the job because that’s what the communities and the people in the communities expect of us.