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Cabinet ministers make special visit to Wood Buffalo

PHOTO. Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange (right) and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson meet with Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam on August. 28, 2019. Supplied by the Government of Alberta.

Cabinet ministers from the United Conservative government were in the region this week.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson visited schools in Fort McMurray, Fort Chipewyan, and Conklin.

Wilson said it’s important to personally visit and see the situation at hand.

“We’ve got a lot of First Nations and Métis people that I work with, and you hear a lot about some of the things that are happening, but to see it first-hand is always best.” 


LaGrange began her tour of the province’s school divisions in the north.

She said they held positive meetings in Fort Chipewyan and with the Francophone school board, FMPSD and FMCSD.

Despite the challenges facing remote locales, there is much to celebrate.

“It gives me a good opportunity to really understand, see what’s happening, what the issues are, what we can celebrate, so I’m really excited to be up here.”

In June, RMWB Council heard about education concerns from the region’s rural hamlets.

Some schools had few graduates, or in some cases, none.

One school in Conklin faced a staff turnover rate of 100 per cent.

LaGrange said getting and keeping teachers is one of the government’s first priorities.

“What we need to address is the ability to recruit and retain teachers. There are some significant challenges in that area, [and] some of that has to do with the housing that’s available for the teachers and the quality of that housing.”

She along with Rick Wilson agreed that access to capital would help stimulate growth in Indigenous communities.

LaGrange commended Council and community leaders for its advocacy for children in the region.

“What I’ve seen is a community that really wants to rally around children [and] really want the best education possible for their kids. They [are] open to having conversations about how we can achieve that, and work together to make things better.”

She said she plans to visit all the school divisions in Alberta in her first year as the Minister of Education.

Indigenous Relations

Both cabinet ministers tie support for rural schools means also supporting Indigenous communities.

Rick Wilson said the province seeks to provide them with business opportunities in the resource market.

He proposed an Alberta Indigenous Opportunity Corporation (AIOC).

The AIOC would backstop loans to First Nations and Métis so they can access capital.

Wilson hopes the legislation to start the corporation would be ready in the fall.

“We’ve always been laser-focused in this province: Jobs, economy, and the pipelines. So that’s what we want to do: Get people back working in Alberta, and make sure the Indigenous people are part of that opportunity.”

Meanwhile, he’ll continue speaking with Métis and First Nations leaders across all Treaty territories about joining the 7-9 member panel.

Wilson said the future is bright for Indigenous communities when the youth have opportunities.

He remarked about a recent meeting with summer students working with the McMurray Métis.

“Awesome bunch of kids down there working away all summer, learning new skills, [and] anxious to get back to school. That’s what it’s all about: Indigenous peoples working with kids and then looking forward to the future.”

The pair wrap up their visit in Fort McKay on August 29, 2019.