Grand Chief Stewart Phillip rips into Justin Trudeau's decision replace Jody Wilson-Raybould as justice minister

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      Grand Chief Stewart Phillip has often clashed with the federal Liberal government, particularly on environmental issues and its approach to land claims.

      But last night on APTN National News, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs offered glowing praise for one of Justin Trudeau's cabinet ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould.

      Phillip also expressed deep dismay over Trudeau's recent decision to replace Wilson-Raybould as justice minister and attorney general and name her as minister of veterans affairs.

      Wilson-Raybould is a former B.C. regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations who was elected in Vancouver Granville in the 2015 federal election.

      "I can tell you with great certainty this disappointing and disturbing decision on the part of the prime minister has reverberated across this country," Phillip told anchor Dennis Ward. "And our members in our communities, all of our members, held Jody Wilson-Raybould in such high regard.

      "We were so proud of her. And there's enormous disappointment," Phillip continued. "I don't think you're going to find too many people supporting the Liberals during the next federal election."

      Watch Grand Chief Stewart Phillip's interview with Dennis Ward on APTN National News.

      Media reports in Ottawa have suggested that Trudeau's office found Wilson-Raybould difficult to work with.

      Phillip, however, called that claim "ridiculous", describing Wilson-Raybould as "one of the bright lights at the cabinet table".

      "We've known Jody Wilson-Raybould in British Columbia for many, many years," Phillip told APTN. "We've had the privilege and the honour to work alongside her. We know her to be a woman of tremendous integrity, very conscientious, an absolute workhorse. 

      "Quite often she would work through the night in preparation for the assemblies and the gatherings we had in British Columbia. Her work was absolutely meticulous. Her reports were absolutely amazing. She set such a high standard of accountability and transparency in regard to all of the First Nations leaders and communities here in British Columbia."

      Ward asked Phillip if he had a theory as to why she was "demoted".

      "Well, I sometimes think our greatest strengths are—you know—cause for these types of things to happen," Phillip replied. "I think her light shone so brightly. You know, perhaps [the] prime minister felt threatened. It certainly flies in the face of all his empty, lofty rhetoric on reconciliation."

      Jody Wilson-Raybould was Canada's first Indigenous justice minister and attorney general.

      After Wilson-Raybould was named minister of veterans affairs, she posted a letter on her website outlining her accomplishments as justice minister and attorney general.

      Here is part of what she wrote in the letter:

      "With respect to Indigenous issues, as MOJAG, I have publicly expressed my opinions in various venues about the ongoing challenges in transforming what the Prime Minister has stated is the 'most important' relationship, that between Canada and Indigenous peoples.

      "One of my main motivations for seeking public office was to see the work of reconciliation accelerate and advance in real and tangible ways.

      "The work that must be done is well known. We have the solutions. Indigenous peoples have advocated and brought forward what must be done for decades. Countless Commissions, studies, reports, and analyses have reiterated the work we must do together to reconcile.

      "The foundation for moving forward is understanding that the dire social and economic realities that Indigenous peoples continue to face—including lack of clean drinking water, over representation in the criminal justice system, inadequate housing, high rates of poverty, and violence against Indigenous women and girls—are directly linked to legislative and policy regimes that have disempowered and divided Indigenous peoples, eroded their systems of governance, laws, and responsibilities, harmed their economies, and denied their basic rights and systems.

      "Long overdue legislative and policy changes based on the recognition of title and rights, including historic treaties, are urgently needed, so that Indigenous peoples can accelerate and lead the work of re-building their Nations and governments, and a new climate of co-operative relations can emerge.

      "While our government has taken some very important steps, and hard work is being done, the necessary shifts have not yet been fully achieved. Rather, a number of the proposals that our government has been pursuing so far require substantial work in co-operation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples to reset the new foundations for this most important relationship.

      "As a Member of Cabinet, I will continue to be directly engaged in advocating for and advancing the fundamental shifts in relations with Indigenous peoples that are required and will continue to work with my colleagues and to ensure my voice is heard."