New justice minister brings unique perspective to First Nations issues

There are so many ways to view the make-up of the first cabinet of the new Trudeau era–among other things, it goes a long way to reflect the diversity of this country — but one aspect of it stands out above all others.

That would the appointment of a prominent First Nations member as the Minister of Justice.

Such a thing would have been presumed preposterous just a few decades ago. Further back in the past, it would have even been deemed illegal.

So the elevation of Jody Wilson-Raybould, a Vancouver lawyer and Crown prosecutor, to that post is of truly historic proportions.

While the appointment of any First Nations member to a national cabinet is important, putting someone of that heritage in the justice portfolio itself is particularly powerful and overdue.

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The justice system — which includes various police forces — has had a troubled relationship with First Nations communities for many, many years. Aboriginals have been plagued with disproportionately high interactions with the system and in parts of Canada have been mistreated by those tasked with the job of operating the system.

Presumably, Wilson-Raybould will try to mend those fences. At the very least, her appointment to this important post sends a signal the status quo will not be tolerated.

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She will also bring a unique and important perspective to the constantly evolving relationship between the Crown and First Nations on critical issues such as land rights, treaties and land claims.

In many ways, her appointment reflects the new Prime Minister’s determination to bring change on all kinds of fronts. It’s not just about having gender parity reflected in the cabinet make-up, but also ensuring ethnic communities are well represented and so too are Canada’s vast geographic regions.

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Where his predecessor’s government evolved, over time, into a seemingly soulless operation interested only in governing for a relatively small part of the population, Justin Trudeau is starting off his term at the helm by trying to show he’s interested in governing on behalf of pretty well everyone.

His cabinet structure reflects this broad view in a number of ways. Aside from gender parity and significant representation of the country’s ethnic diversity is the fact that, for the first time, the problem of climate change is an official part of the Environment Ministry’s formal title (another is the establishment of a stand-alone science ministry).

Inclusive, diverse, fresh, youthful and enthusiastic: all of these terms can be applied to the new Prime Minister’s kick-off to government, at least for now.

There will undoubtedly be missteps taken in the months ahead, as Trudeau has set the expectations bar very high by laying out an ambitious agenda. He may well fall flat on his face on meeting certain promises and carrying out initiatives.

But for now, it’s a good start for the new government, and nothing says “change” more than putting a prominent First Nations member in charge of a justice system that has failed that community in so many ways throughout Canada’s history.

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