APTN National News
OTTAWA–The Stephen Harper government is erasing the word “Indian” from the title of the federal department responsible for dealing with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.
The first step came during Wednesday’s unveiling of the new Conservative majority cabinet when John Duncan, who was previously minister of Indian and northern affairs, was named as minister of Aboriginal affairs.
The federal government is now also planning to erase the word Indian from his department’s name and replace it with Aboriginal. The department is currently known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office said the department would also soon have its name changed.
“In due course we would expect the department’s name would change to reflect this title,” said PMO spokesman Andrew MacDougall.
There is no word yet on how much this is expected to cost.
Changing a department’s name can turn into a costly enterprise because it requires changing everything from the wording on the website to department letterhead for official documents and correspondence.
Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo also called for “clarity” on the government’s decision to make the name change.
“We will be seeking clarity in the ministry’s name change to ensure that it accurately reflects the relationship between First Nations and the Crown,” said Atleo. “We will work together to ensure the constitutionally protected rights of First Nations are respected, the responsibilities to First Nations are upheld, and our interests receive specific attention and action.”
Atleo said he hoped the name change was more than about optics.
“This needs to be about real action and change, not a name change,” said Atleo.
The decision by the PMO to make the name change appears to have caught the department by surprise.
A spokesperson for the department said they heard the news on television and could not comment, before referring questions to the PMO.
A spokesman for the PMO said the name change was done so it “better reflects the scope of the minister’s responsibilities with respect to First Nations, Inuit and Metis.”
MacDougall said the new title was “more up to date and inclusive” and “consistent with the government’s focus on moving forward in our relationship with Aboriginal peoples.”
MacDougall said the title change did not change Duncan’s “statutory responsibilities” and he remained authorized to act as the federal interlocutor for Metis and Non-status Indians.