The chief of the Caldwell First Nation in southwestern Ontario is calling for the resignation of Ontario Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford over what she says is a "disregard" for First Nations voices.
"If we're doing a cabinet shuffle, why are the First Nations not considered in the issues that we've presented?" said Chief Mary Duckworth of Caldwell First Nation.
In a cabinet shuffle Friday, Premier Doug Ford put four MPPs into new portfolios, but all others, including Rickford, remained in their existing roles.
Duckworth says Rickford is refusing to meet with Ontario Regional Chief Glen Hare at Queen's Park and is instead holding meetings off the site of the provincial legislature.
In a letter calling for Rickford's removal, Caldwell First Nation says the move is disrespectful and "harkens back to a dark era when First Nations representatives were forced to meet with provincial politicians at the back door of Queen's Park."
"This behaviour undermines the principles of mutual respect and cooperation that are vital to building positive relationships between First Nations communities and government entities," the letter stated.
The letter goes on to say that First Nations have called on the premier to create "real" business partnerships in southwestern Ontario and accused the government of using the community members as "cardboard cut outs" at media events.
Duckworth said the letter was sent with Hare's support.
Rickford is the provincial minister of northern development, as well as minister for Indigenous affairs.
Minister of Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford takes part in a cabinet swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the Legislature, in Toronto, on Jun. 24, 2022. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)
A statement from a spokesperson did not address the meeting location matter, but said that Rickford has met with Duckworth several times to "discuss meaningful growth opportunities and building prosperity within the Southwest region," including in meetings with the premier.
"Our government will continue to engage with First Nations leaders throughout the Southwestern corridor to build consensus in the region," said Curtis Lindsay, a spokesperson for the minister. "We look forward to building on these relationships with valued partners based on respect, collaboration and understanding."
Duckworth said the off-Queen's Park meetings come after Hare, the Ontario regional chief, criticized the Ford government on the Greenbelt controversy at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario meeting in London in August.
"You don't treat First Nations like that. We come to do business. You don't delegate us off and regulate us off Queen's Park," Caldwell told CBC News.
"Those are the issues that we have and it all ties in to the Greenbelt."
On Thursday, Ford reversed a controversial decision to open up the Greenbelt to development, calling it a mistake. Two ministers have resigned over the controversy.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton also announced Friday he would resign from cabinet to pursue private-sector opportunities.
Regarding Duckworth's allegations on a lack of meaningful contact from the province, Derek Coronado, executive director of the Citizens Environment Alliance in Windsor, says he's "not surprised."
"I mean that sort of reaction or sort of organizing tactic was shown in the Greenbelt debacle… I don't think it's unusual for this government. I think it's part of their playbook," he said.
Coronado said it was surprising, however, the Ford government reversed course on the Greenbelt.