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March 04, 2016

Meet Native America: Kevin T. Hart, Manitoba Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations

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 introduce themselves and 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 

Kevin Hart
Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin T. Hart, Assembly of First Nations, Canada.

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Kevin T. Hart. I am the Manitoba Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations of Canada. 

What First Nation are you affiliated with? 

The Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, Treaty 5. I grew up on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation. I presently reside on my wife’s community, the Sagkeeng First Nation, which is a signatory to Treaty 1. 

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

The vision of the elders from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation to move the community to a higher ground. The elders foresaw that the flood Manitoba Hydro did to the northern region in the 1960s would completely devastate the lands of my people. 

How is your provincial government set up? 

The provincial government is set up like the Iroquois Confederacy. All of the Canadian legislatures and the parliament are built upon the same government system. 

How are ministers chosen? 

Ministers are chosen by their leaders provincially and federally. 

Is there a political party that is more dominant than others in your province? Do legislators vote along party lines?

The NPD (New Democratic Party) is dominant in the province. The Liberal Party is the dominant party federally. Historically, Native people have been loyal to the NDP, but there are other Native candidates running as members of the other political parties. 

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

Yes, there are a number of elected leaders in the province: Grand Chief Derek Nepinak for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs; Southern Chiefs Organization Grand Chief Terrance Nelson; Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North–WilsonAmanda Lathlin, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for The Pas; Kevin Chief, the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Point Douglas; Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg; Deputy Premier of Manitoba and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs the Honorable Eric Robison; and Robert Falcon-Ouellette, Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre. 

How many bands are in your province? Who are they?

Manitoba has 63 First Nations. Most are signatories to Treaties 1 through 5

Barren Lands First Nation
Berens River First Nation
Birdtail Sioux First Nation
Black River First Nation
Bloodvein First Nation
Brokenhead Ojibway Nation
Buffalo Point First Nation
Chemawawin Cree Nation
Cross Lake Band of Indians
Dakota Tipi First Nation
Dauphin River First Nation
Ebb And Flow First Nation
Fisher River Cree Nation
Fox Lake Cree Nation
Gamblers First Nation
Garden Hill First Nation
God's Lake First Nation
Hollow Water First Nation
Keeseekoowenin Ojibway Nation
Sioux Valley Dakota Nation
Kinonjeoshtegon First Nation
Lake Manitoba First Nation
Lake St. Martin First Nation
Little Grand Rapids First Nation
Little Saskatchewan First Nation
Long Plain First Nation
Manto Sipi Cree Nation
Marcel Colomb First Nation
Mathias Colomb First Nation
Misipawistik Cree Nation
Mosakahiken Cree Nation
Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation
Northlands Denesuline First Nation
Norway House Cree Nation
O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation
Okawamithikani First Nation
Opaskwayak Cree Nation
O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation
Pauingassi First Nation
Peguis First Nation
Pinaymootang First Nation
Pine Creek Anishinabe Nation
Poplar River First Nation
Red Sucker Lake First Nation
Rolling River Anishinabe Nation
Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation
Sandy Bay First Nation
Sagkeeng First Nation
Sapotaweyak Cree Nation
Sayisi Dene First Nation
Shamattawa First Nation
Skownan First Nation
St. Theresa Point First Nation
Swan Lake First Nation
Tataskweyak Cree Nation
Tootinaowaziibeeng Treaty Reserve
War Lake First Nation
Wasagamack First Nation
Waywayseecappo First Nation
Wuskwi Sipihk First Nation
York Factory Cree Nation 

Do you ever meet with the Native people of your province?

Yes, I meet on a regular basis with the Native people in the province of Manitoba. I make myself accessible for the grassroots people. I believe in the grassroots movement and the grassroots people. I am not a top-down leader, I am a bottom-up leader. 

Kevin Hart 2
Elders Eunice Beardy and Chris Sawatzky offering a blessing for Chief Hart. "This is the time when my people honored me to wear a sacred headdress to represent my chieftainship," Chief Hart explained. "It was done in a ceremony which is truly important to our people. I come from an upbringing of the importance of the ceremonies and protocols of our people. This picture shows the elders praying over me in a good way just after the headdress was placed upon me for the first time."

Do the Native people in Manitoba vote in provincial elections?

Yes and no. Some of the people practice their sovereignty. In the most recent federal election, however, the vote in First Nations northern communities increased by 40 percent from the previous election in 2011. The Rock the Vote movement successfully mobilized First Nations people in northern Manitoba to come out and vote. Through public education, identification seminars, and social media, First Nations came out to vote in record numbers.

How often does your ministry meet?

The Assembly of First Nations executive committee meets quarterly, and its members are in dialogue on a daily basis. There are 634 First Nations communities across Canada that the Assembly of First Nation works with in different regions. The elected leaders of the provincial Assembly of First Nations have responsibility for their regions as well as national responsibility for specific portfolios.

What responsibilities do you have as a provincial minister?

The portfolios that I am responsible for nationally are Water; Infrastructure; Housing; Social, Child, and Family Services; Indian Gaming; Food Security; and Alternative Energy.

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

The year 1990, when the late Manitoba Legislative Assemblyman and Member of Parliament Elijah Harper stopped the Meech Lake Accord. He did this by holding an eagle feather as he stood in the Manitoba legislature and refused to support the accord. He effectively blocked the package of constitutional amendments negotiated, without any participation by the First Nations, to gain Quebec's acceptance of the Constitution Act of 1982. Elijah's stand empowered First Nations people in Manitoba and across Canada.

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

I grew up with humble beginnings—no running water, impoverished—and left home when I was 15 years old. My education and background in Business Administration and Political Science prepared me for the role I am currently entrusted with by Creator to represent and serve my people.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

All our elders—our grandfathers and grandmothers—have inspired me; my parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles; and the many traditional teachers and medicine people. I have had many good mentors politically, as well, such as Hon. Eric Robinson, Hon. Elijah Harper, Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.

Are you a descendant of a historical leader?

I am a descendant of Chief Big Bear.

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

The 2011 census of households in Canada shows the total population of Manitoba as being around 1,280,000. Ten percent are First Nations people, and another 6.7 percent are Métis. Manitoba has the highest proportion of Native people of all the provinces. In terms of political representation, there are 57 constituencies, or parliamentary districts, in Manitoba, and three Native MPs: Hon. Eric Robinson for Keewatinook, Hon. Kevin Chief for Point Douglas, and Hon. Amanda Lathlin for The Pas.

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

The first goal was to get our people to Rock the Vote, which was a very successful movement that led in October to a new federal government. We are now working with the newly elected Liberal majority on a new nation-to-nation relationship and moving forward. I also have been advocating for various concerns that First Nations people in Manitoba have brought forward.

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

It’s never too late to learn your language and the ceremonies. It’s never too late to learn your identity.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to bring attention to the crisis of missing and murdered Native women and girls in Canada. The statistical number from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is 1,200. However, we are aware that there are more than 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Over 12,000 children are in care in the Manitoba, and First Nations children account for up to 10,000 of those children in care. We have gained a commitment from the newly elected Liberal government to launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. The new Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs in Canada, Hon. Carolyn Bennett, has traveled across Canada to meet with families of missing and murdered women. The Grand Chiefs of Manitoba and I are committed to seeing that the government helps these women and children and their families.

Thank you. 

Thank you. 

Photos courtesy of the Assembly of First Nations, Canada.

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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