(Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan during swearing-in ceremony. photo handout)
APTN National News
The recently appointed Indigenous Relations minister in Alberta said the first thing on his list to tackle will be implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“Absolutely it’s a big deal- UNDRIP is one of the major pieces and the groundwork has already been done,” said Indigenous Relations Minister Richard Feehan. “We don’t want to lose any time at all because there’s been a switch in ministers.”
Richard Feehan takes the portfolio from Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley, who spent the last 9 months juggling both portfolios.
“I was very privileged to have the premier put some faith in me that I could move ahead with a lot of the great work that’s already been done by Minister Ganley. I was pretty delighted to be given this opportunity and looking forward to it. There’s pretty exciting times ahead,” he said.
Feehan said the change reflects the priorities of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and that she wanted full-time attention given to the area of Indigenous relations.
“She (Notley) started with a small cabinet and they did that so they could have a good focus beginning and relationship as they move forward on important initiatives,” he said. “One of the things they learned in doing that was there was some pieces of the work we wanted to emphasize.”
With the deadline drawing near for MLA’s to present their plans to incorporate UNDRIP into their portfolios to the premier, Feehan doesn’t believe his late arrival on the scene will hinder the outcome.
“My primary job is going to be to start to get out in the communities and begin to visit everyone,” he said. “Of course we’ve invited chiefs and councils from across the province to also make submissions (on UNDRIP). So there are a lot of people who’ve done the work.”
Like many NDP MLAs, Feehan is serving his first term as an elected member of the Alberta Legislature. He previously worked as a social worker throughout the province for almost 30 years.
With the high number of Indigenous children and families involved with social services and child welfare Feehan said he has a unique understanding of the challenges they face.
“In social work the Indigenous population is a significant part of the overall population, there’s lots of contact (and) that includes people probably from almost every reserve in one nature or another,” he said.
Repairing the relationship between Indigenous People and the Alberta government will also be a priority. Much of his efforts will be spent building trust and working on reconciliation, he said.
“What we want though is that the relationship we’re building between the two large groups—that is the province and all the nations—for that to continue to move forward. That’s where it’s really important,” he said.