Meet Canada’s First Aboriginal Minister of Justice

The appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould signals a commitment to diversify the country’s cabinet.

Jody Wilson-Raybould. (Photo: Facebook)

Nov 8, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Rebecca McCray is a staff writer covering social justice. She is based in New York.

Canada’s new prime minister, Justin Trudeau, appointed a younger, more ethnically diverse cabinet this week that—for the first time in Canada’s history—has an equal number of men and women.

“It’s important to be here before you today to present to Canada a cabinet that looks like Canada,” Trudeau told reporters on Wednesday after his swearing in.

One of the 15 women appointed, former prosecutor Jody Wilson-Raybould, is the country’s first aboriginal minister of justice. Her appointment signals Trudeau’s commitment to diversify his cabinet, indigenous leaders said, not just in positions that strictly handle indigenous affairs.

“It sends the statement that First Nations people are doctors and lawyers and scientists and businesspeople,” Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, told The Globe and Mail. “You don’t have to pigeonhole people into the Indian Affairs department.”

While the job ahead won’t be limited to indigenous issues, Wilson-Raybould’s experience as the former regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations in British Columbia will aid in the task of easing the tenuous relationship between the government and Canada’s aboriginal population.

On her Liberal Party blog in June, Wilson-Raybould wrote about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report, which highlighted the devastating impact of the government’s removal of more than 150,000 aboriginal children from their homes and their placement in residential schools that aimed to wipe clean their aboriginal culture. The reconciliation process between the government and her people, she wrote, is central to her work as a politician.

“One of the reasons I became involved in mainstream politics was to help in this important work of reconciliation that is in the national interest, both socially and economically,” she wrote. “The future of Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians is mutually intertwined.”

Indigenous issues aside, Wilson-Raybould is also tasked with introducing legislation to legalize doctor-assisted suicide and will help lead the way on following through with Trudeau’s campaign promise to legalize marijuana.

“I’m immensely proud to be an aboriginal person in this country, and I’m equally proud to be a Canadian,” Wilson-Raybould told The Toronto Star. “And the diversity that is reflected around the cabinet table in the House of Commons is incredibly empowering.”