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December 11, 2015

Meet Native America: Hon. Eric Robinson, Deputy Premier of Manitoba and Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

Hon. Eric Robinson (right) and Chief Derek Nepinak (center), Grand Chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, taking part in a rally to support the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Winnipeg, 2015. Deputy Premier Robinson played a key role in the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba and the creation of the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

My name is Eric Robinson (Ka-Kee-Nee Konee Pewonee Okimow). My full title is the Honorable Eric Robinson, Deputy Premier of Manitoba and Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. I am the minister responsible for Manitoba HydroAboriginal Education, the Communities Economic Development Fund, and the East Side Road Authority. I also represent the constituency of Kewatinook in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. 

What First Nation are you affiliated with?

I am a member of the Cross Lake First Nation, also known as Pimicikamak Okimawin. 

What is a significant point in history from your First Nation that you would like to share? 

The 1875 Treaty Five agreement with Canada and several First Nations, including Cross Lake. 

How is your provincial government set up?  

The leader of the political party who wins the most seats in provincial elections becomes premier and forms the government. 

How are ministers chosen?

Ministers are chosen by the premier. 

Is there one political party that is more dominant than the others in your province? Do elected officials vote along party lines? 

The New Democratic Party is the dominant party in Manitoba and is currently in its fourth term of government since 1999. On most issues voting is on party lines. 

Are there any other Natives who are elected leaders in your province?

Amanda Lathlin, member for The Pas, is the first treaty woman elected to the Manitoba legislature. She is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. Ministers Kevin Chief and Greg Dewar are Metis members of the legislature. 

How many bands are in Manitoba? Do you meet with the Native people of your province? 

There are 63 First Nations in the province:

Barren Lands First Nation, in Brochet, Manitoba
Berens River First Nation, Berens River 
Birdtail Sioux First Nation, Beulah 
Black River First Nation, O’hanley 
Bloodvein First Nation, Bloodvein 
Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, Scanterbury 
Buffalo Point First Nation, Buffalo Point 
Bunibonibee Cree Nation, Oxford House 
Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation, Pipestone 
Chemawawin Cree Nation, Easterville 
Cross Lake First Nation (Pimicikamak Cree Nation), Cross Lake 
Dakota Plains First Nation, Portage La Prairie 
Dakota Tipi First Nation, Dakota Tipi 
Dauphin River First Nation, Gypsumville 
Ebb and Flow First Nation, Ebb and Flow 
Fisher River Cree Nation, Koostatak 
Fort Alexander First Nation (Sagkeeng First Nation), Fort Alexander 
Fox Lake Cree Nation, Gillam 
Gamblers First Nation, Binscarth 
Garden Hill First Nation, Garden Hill 
God’s Lake First Nation, God’s Lake Narrows 
Hollow Water First Nation, Wanipigow 
Keeseekoowenin First Nation, Elphinstone 
Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation, Dallas 
Lake Manitoba First Nation, Lake Manitoba 
Lake St. Martin First Nation, Gypsumville 
Little Grand Rapids, Little Grand Rapids 
Little Saskatchewan First Nation, Gypsumville 
Long Plain First Nation, Portage la Prairie 
Manto Sipi Cree Nation, God’s River 
Marcel Colomb First Nation, Lynn Lake 
Mathias Colomb First Nation, Pukatawagan 
Misipawistik Cree Nation, Grand Rapids 
Mosakahiken Cree Nation, Moose Lake 
Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Nelson House 
Northlands First Nation, Lac Brochet
Norway House Cree Nation, Norway House 
O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation, Crane River
Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Opaskwayak 
O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, South Indian Lake 
Pauingassi First Nation, Pauingassi 
Peguis First Nation, Peguis Reserve 
Pinaymootang First Nation, Fairford 
Pine Creek First Nation, Camperville 
Poplar River First Nation, Negginan 
Red Sucker Lake First Nation, Red Sucker Lake 
Rolling River First Nation, Erickson 
Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation, Ginew 
Sandy Bay First Nation, Marius 
Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Pelican Rapids 
Sayisi Dene First Nation, Tadoule Lake 
Shamattawa First Nation, Shamattawa 
Sioux Valley Dakota, Griswold 
Skownan First Nation, Skownan 
St. Theresa Point First Nation, St. Theresa Point
Swan Lake First Nation, Swan Lake 
Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Split Lake
Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve, Tootinaowaziibeeng
War Lake First Nation, Ilford
Wasagamack First Nation, Wasagamack
Waywayseecappo First Nation Treaty Four, Waywayseecappo
Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation, Birch River
York Factory First Nation, York Landing 

Manitoba is also the home of an important Metis population. As minister and as member for Kewatinook, I meet with Indigenous people virtually every day. 

Do the Native people in Manitoba vote in provincial elections? 

Native people got the right to vote in 1960. 

How often does your ministry meet? 

I meet with senior staff of the Ministry of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, along with staff of the Communities Economic Development Fund and East Side Road Authority, on a regular basis. 

What responsibilities do you have as a provincial minister? 

As mentioned previously, I am responsible for the Department of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, which works to improve the opportunities and quality of life for Aboriginal and northern Manitobans. The department is also responsible for 50 off-reserve Indigenous communities, most of which are adjacent to First Nations. The Communities Economic Development Fund provides commercial and fisher loans for northern residents and businesspeople on and off reserve. The East Side Road Authority is building two road networks in partnership with 13 remote First Nations on the East Side of Lake Winnipeg, none of which had all-weather roads before this initiative. 

Deputy Premier Robinson, Manito Ahbee
Deputy Premier Robinson at the Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards. Manito Ahbee, Winnipeg, 2013.

What is a significant point in Manitoba history that you would like to share? 

In 1999 two First Nation Crees were appointed to the provincial cabinet—the late Oscar Lathlin and myself. In the same year, George Hickes was elected Speaker of the Assembly, becoming the first Inuit to hold that post. In 2009 I became the first treaty Indian appointed as deputy premier.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead your community? 

I am a survivor of a residential school system designed to assimilate Indian people into the mainstream of Canadian society. The fire in my belly is to fight for respect for our people. 

Who inspired you as a mentor? 

Two people in particular have been my mentors: George Manuel, an early leader of the National Indian Brotherhood, and Ken Robinson, my father. 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? 


Approximately how many constituents are in your district? Approximately how many are Native? 

Over 85 percent of the people in Kewatinook are First Nations. The constituency represents roughly 27,000 people in a province of approximately 1.2 million. Province-wide, the Aboriginal population is more than 150,000. 

How have you used your elected position to help Natives and other minorities? 

As minister I have been active in developing and promoting a number of initiatives to recognize treaty rights, promote reconciliation for Indigenous people, and see the culture and history of Aboriginal people in Manitoba recognized, from the creation of Manito Ahbee—now the largest Indigenous arts, culture, and music festival in Canada—to the devolution of child welfare to First Nations, Metis, and non-Aboriginal communities, to building partnerships in hydro development. 

What message would you like to share with the youth of your Native community?

Leadership is inbred in all of us. 

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

The hurt of one is the hurt of all. The honor of one is the honor of all. 

Thank you. 

Thank you. 

Photos courtesy of the Office of the Minister of Aboriginal and Northern Affairs, Legislative Assembly of Manitoba. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission. 


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