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Canada's Justin Trudeau shakes up indigenous affairs with Cabinet reshuffle

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has reshuffled his cabinet to change his government’s "colonial" era relations with indigenous tribes. Some First Nations people have said promises to improve their lives have been broken.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who took office in 2015 promising to repair relations with Canada's 1.4 million indigenous people, said on Monday that his government needed a thorough overhaul.

As part of his restructuring, the federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Ministry is to be split in two, with senior members of the Trudeau cabinet picked to head up each section. In the past, one single minister has represented the affairs of indigenous people. The new changes mean there will be two separate tracks - one to improve socioeconomic conditions and the other to promote self-determination.

"There's a sense we have pushed the creaky old structures around about as far as they can go... it could not deliver the reconciliation that we need," Trudeau told reporters.

Read more: Canada to investigate killings of First Nations women

Former Health Minister Jane Philpott (photo, third from left) will have the task of closing the socioeconomic gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians. Her job will also be to ensure day-to-day services to tribes including housing, education and drinking water.

Carolyn Bennett (photo, left), meanwhile, will oversee "foundational changes" to laws, government policies and practices aimed at advancing the self-determination and self-government of tribes.

Lagging in health and wealth

Aboriginals make up about 4 percent of the Canadian population. Many live in poverty and suffer from poor health, made worse by a widespread lack of access to safe drinking water. The community has also been plagued with a high suicide rate.

Despite Trudeau's election pledges and billions of dollars in new spending, activists say they have seen little improvement on the ground.

Read more: Canada grants aboriginal status to Metis, unrecognized Indians

A high-profile protest was mounted by one aboriginal group to disrupt the July 1 Canada Day festivities, putting up a tent on Parliament Hill.

On the positive side, the Association of First Nations umbrella organization for aboriginals said the latest changes announced by Trudeau were significant.

Opinion polls show Trudeau's Liberals with a healthy approval rating, with the next election scheduled for October 2019.

rc/cmk (AFP, Reuters)

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