MP Patty Hajdu says she's honoured to be Canada's new Indigenous Services minister, calling it one of the "most meaningful" portfolios in Ottawa.
Hajdu, who represents Thunder Bay–Superior North in Ontario, was sworn into cabinet on Tuesday. She was formerly minister of health.
"This is one of the most meaningful portfolios in the government of Canada, as you know, [with] reconciliation as a priority," Hajdu said Wednesday on CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning. "No relationship is more important to the prime minister than that with Indigenous people.
"We've got a lot of work to do and we've got a lot of amends to make," she said. "I'm very much looking forward to working on this file and to restoring that relationship on that path with Indigenous people that we have been committed to over the last number of years."
Sets sights on boil-water advisories
Hajdu said one of her main priorities is to address the boil-water advisories affecting 44 Indigenous communities, calling them "unacceptable."
"There are many, many challenges, but they are surmountable. We need a clear timeline and we need transparency about where we are in the various steps in each of those communities.
"I look forward to bringing more transparency to this file so people can actually see where those where the work is at, and how the work is progressing," Hajdu said.
A timeline for addressing those boil-water advisories has yet to be developed, she said.
"It's something that we need to work out with Indigenous people so that I understand what those barriers are, and what the realistic timeline is for each of those communities."
Hajdu also said she's also focused on the question of whether the government will appeal recent Federal Court rulings that upheld earlier human rights tribunal compensation orders.
The tribunal ordered the government to pay $40,000 to each child affected by the on-reserve child welfare system since 2006, and also said the primary guardians of those children would also be eligible for compensation, provided the children weren't taken into the system due to abuse.
The government has until Friday to file an appeal.
"I believe that it's in no one's interest to continue litigation, that compensation is due, and that we also not only need to compensate people that have experienced human rights violations, but also that we need to have enough capacity and financial means to stop the ongoing discrimination," Hajdu said. "So that is a conversation that will be happening in the hours to come with my colleagues."
Chief hopes for funding of community projects
Donny Morris, chief of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug, about 580 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, said Hajdu's familiarity with northwestern Ontario will serve her well in the new role.
"That's a benefit for us, knowing that she's from Thunder Bay, and she knows quite a few northern communities," Morris said, adding it will also help her as she works with other northern communities in other provinces.
However, Morris noted the pandemic halted a number of projects Indigenous communities were working on and prevented meetings with government officials, including ministers, from taking place.
He hopes Hajdu will restart those processes quickly.
"I know my expectation for her is she's got to hit the ground running," he said. "I know when I look at my chart, I have about 15 projects we wanted them to consider funding.
"This is just one community," Morris said. "But what about 633 reserves? Everybody has a wish list for this upcoming Christmas, and I'm definitely one of them. So she's got to really fast track her bureaucratic system to get things moving, reviewed, and what is she going to approve? That's what we're waiting for from her."
You can listen to Hajdu's complete interview on Superior Morning here: