Bryn Weese
North Bay Nugget

Local News – Wednesday, August 15, 2007 Updated @ 10:02:28 AM

The leader of the Anishinabek Nation has mixed feelings about the change at the helm of the Indian affairs portfolio.

Former Indian affairs minister Jim Prentice was shuffled Tuesday to industry, and was replaced by former minister of agriculture Chuck Strahl.

Grand Council Chief John Beaucage said he’s heard good things about Strahl, an MP since 1993, and his relationship with First Nation communities in northern British Columbia.

But Beaucage also laments Prentice’s departure.

“I’m sorry to see him go. It took quite a while to build a relationship with Minister Prentice and once we had this relationship going, it seemed to really take off,” Beaucage said, noting in July the Union of Ontario Indians became the first aboriginal organization in Ontario to establish a bilateral relationship with the Conservative government. “We made some real headway.”

Beaucage pointed to a self-government agreement-in-principle that he and Prentice signed in February. With Prentice gone, Beaucage worries the process will slow.

Strahl was criticized in his role as Minister of Agriculture for bullying the Winnipeg-based Canadian Wheat Board and trying to do away with its monopoly to market Canadian grain.
“We’ve had our share of bullies in the past with regards to ministers and what happens is we end up butting heads and nothing gets done. I would sure hate to see that happen,” Beaucage said. “Chuck Strahl has got a good reputation . . . and I’m hoping I can continue some of the same kind of relationship that I had with Minister Prentice . . .”

Beaucage said he is eager to meet with Strahl to move forward with the self-government agreement.

Beaucage added he’d like to see a timeline put in place for removing the Indian Act from all 42-member communities of the Anishinabek Nation, as well as foster community and economic development in First Nation communities “so we become more independent and less dependent on government funding sources,” he said.