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A man broke a woman’s arm with a crowbar. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals say they are still hearing support from Indigenous people and leaders, despite concerns raised publicly about Trudeau’s expulsion of two ex-ministers who had been central to work on reconciliation.

While the Liberals have repeatedly said that addressing the relationship with Indigenous Peoples in Canada is a top priority, that commitment has been openly questioned by some Indigenous leaders, especially since the ejections of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus.

Terry Teegee, the British Columbia regional chief in the Assembly of First Nations, suggested the ejections showed a "deeply flawed and dishonest intent" behind Trudeau’s previously stated respect for Indigenous Peoples. Wilson-Raybould was one of his predecessors.

"The balance that was being forged within our societies through the process of reconciliation is now threatened," he said when Trudeau expelled the two. Teegee called the decision "wrathful."

Wilson-Raybould, as justice minister until January, had been the highest-ranking Indigenous person ever in the Canadian government. Philpott had been seen as one of Trudeau’s most capable ministers; a shuffle that moved her from the high-profile health portfolio to become minister of Indigenous services was a symbol of how important clean water and good housing on reserves, for instance, were to the Liberal government.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, who had worked closely with both, said that while the government is always mindful of triggering cynicism and concern about the relationship she tends, she is continuing to hear "very positive" feedback.

"Whether I’m on the East Coast or the West Coast or in Manitoba, over the last little while, I have to say that people will quietly take me aside and say, ‘We need your government re-elected,’ " Bennett said in an interview.

"I would never presume that whomever I’m speaking to is speaking on behalf of more than one person," she added. "I think that it’s important now for us to earn the respect and continue to make progress."

In the next election, only First Nations, Inuit and Metis will be able to make ultimate determinations about whether their experience with the government has felt more like a partnership than paternalism, Bennett added.

Last week, Trudeau made the decision to remove Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from the Liberal caucus.

The two former cabinet ministers had been outspoken about political pressure to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec engineering giant facing bribery charges over contracts in Libya. Wilson-Raybould believes she was shuffled out of the Department of Justice because she wouldn’t give Trudeau what he wanted on the file, overruling a prosecutor’s decision not to pursue a plea-bargain-like "remediation agreement." Both ultimately resigned from the cabinet.

Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing but has publicly acknowledged there was a breakdown of trust between Wilson-Raybould and his office.

Wilson-Raybould was not available for an interview but Philpott said she does see the controversy as a "setback" in the government’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

Trudeau’s cabinet worked hard on issues including the recognition and affirmation of rights for Indigenous Peoples, Philpott said, and there was "tremendous enthusiasm" about Wilson-Raybould’s being the first Indigenous justice minister in Canadian history.

Wilson-Raybould was moved out of the position into the veterans-affairs portfolio, prior to her subsequent cabinet resignation.

"I think particularly the fact that she was moved out of that role and then subsequently resigned from cabinet, is a setback, without doubt," Philpott said.As an independent MP, Wilson-Raybould continues to have leverage over her former party — and Trudeau in particular — as members of Indigenous communities watch her words and actions carefully, says University of Saskatchewan professor Joseph Garcea, a political scientist who studies Canadian politics."She’s got […]

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