Alongside his wife Donna, Russell Mirasty walked into a modest ceremony at Government House to make history. He swore the oath of office, and became Saskatchewan’s 23rd lieutenant-governor, the first First Nations person appointed to the role.
“Everyone’s probably more excited than me. It’s just a little disbelief from me and trying to accept I was heading toward this role,” Mirasty said when asked how his family reacted to the news.
“There’s tremendous support from the family, they’re all excited and I’m there with them.”
Over the next five years, Mirasty will split his time between his hometown of La Ronge and Regina while serving as the Queen’s representative in Saskatchewan.
In his professional life, Mirasty was a 36-year member of the RCMP. In 2010, he became the commanding officer for the RCMP in Saskatchewan, or “F” Division. He was the first Indigenous person to command an RCMP division.
A member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band, Mirasty said it’s important to him to be the first Indigenous lieutenant-governor in the province.
The appointment has been seen as an important step toward reconciliation.
“Foundational to my work previously has been about relationships, and relationships really is the first steps toward reconciliation and I think they’ll go well together. Absolutely,” Mirasty said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called Mirasty on Friday to officially offer him the job. Mirasty said this had been in the works for some time, and when the call was scheduled he figured Trudeau wouldn’t be calling to say they were going in a different direction.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron said he and others have been pushing for a First Nations lieutenant-governor for a long time.
“To have one of our own appointed to this position is going to do a number of things. It’s going to open doors. He’s going to be in a position to remind those who don’t understand treaty; he’ll remind them and educate them a lot more efficiently and more openly,” Cameron said.
“More importantly, he’ll have that access to all the folks that need a better understanding of treaty.”
Cameron added that now he would like to see Canada’s next governor-general be a First Nations person. Gov. Gen. Julie Payette has approximately three years left in her five-year term.
Premier Scott Moe echoed the sentiment that Mirasty’s appointment is an important step in reconciliation.
“This is a step. Last week as we referenced holding our Council of Federation meeting in a First Nations community, Big River First Nation, is a step so we just continue to take steps. That’s our duty,” Moe said.
Moe added that he is looking forward to having many conversations with Mirasty over his five-year term. Some of those talks have already begun, specifically on education.
“Not only K-12 education, but adult basic education and post-secondary education for all people in the province,” Moe said.
“Specifically Aboriginal communities and people living in Aboriginal communities, but also people living in rural and remote communities as well. Often the struggles and the access are very similar.”
Mirasty assumes the duties of his new office from the late W. Thomas Molloy. Molloy passed away on July 2, 15 months into his term as lieutenant-governor. He had been battling pancreatic cancer.
In his life, Molloy dedicated much of his legal career to negotiating treaty issues, most notably helping establish Nunavut as a territory.
“Now to see his successor as an Indigenous person, I think Tom would be very happy.”