Andy Mitchell is the new federal minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Mitchell, MP for the Ontario riding of Parry Sound—Muskoka, was sworn in Dec. 12 after new Prime Minister Paul Martin took his own oath of office.

Mitchell replaces Robert Nault, who lost his cabinet job. Nault had been known to butt heads with Native leaders in the past; this change will have a significant impact on Canada’s Aboriginal population.

Nault’s advocacy of bill C-7, otherwise known as the First Nations Governance Act, had been a contentious issue in Aboriginal communities the last couple years. Many demonstrations were held to oppose the bill before it passed in the House of Commons. Aboriginal representatives got a break when Martin publicly expressed his opposition to the bill and let it be known that once he took over from Jean Chretien, he would do everything in his power to stop it from becoming law.

Although it’s not quite clear at this point what kind of relationship Mitchell will have with First Nations bands across Canada, Native leaders expect it to be more amicable than before.

Brian Craik, spokesman for the Grand Council of the Crees, said that while they are unfamiliar with Mitchell’s approach, the Grand Council is encouraged by the new PM’s willingness to deal fairly with Native people.

“We’re encouraged by his appointment because it looks like Paul Martin is taking an interest in Aboriginal matters,” Craik said. “Even though [Mitchell] is not familiar with Northern Quebec, we understand Mr. Martin is very interested in the Quebec scene.”