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

Eric Robinson: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series

Dennis Zotigh

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 peoples today.

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 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.

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.

To read the full interview, visit the NMAI series here.

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