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The new minister in charge of relations with aboriginals pledged Thursday that the government will not allow its minority status to get in way of improving conditions for Canada's natives.

Andy Scott, a New Brunswick MP this week named Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, pledged his support at a meeting in Charlottetown of the Assembly of First Nations.

"Though we are in a new Parliament and with a minority government, we will continue to build our relationship with First Nations people based on inclusion and co-operation," Mr. Scott said.

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He told the delegates as the AFN annual general assembly that it would have been "easy" to duck the meeting, having been named to the post only two days earlier, but said that he wanted to take the opportunity to stress his dedication.

"I'm new to the portfolio but I'm no stranger to the commitments the government of Canada and the AFN have made to each other to advance the concerns of First Nations," he said.

"The Prime Minister has said that Canadians expect this government to do better. Your chief has challenged us to do better. [We]must take the necessary steps to improve Canada's prosperity and all people's standards of living. The summons could not be more clear."

AFN leader Phil Fontaine opened the Charlottetown meetings on Tuesday, the same day Mr. Scott was sworn into cabinet, with a warning that the group would try to use the Liberals' minority status to push for faster movement on native issues.

He told delegates that the AFN will push for a "full seat at the table" in all discussions that affect natives and suggested that Canadian native groups might consider emulating their U.S. counterparts, who are working to maximize their political influence by engaging members in this fall's presidential election.

"Minority governments present new challenges and new opportunities," Mr. Fontaine said Tuesday. "A key consideration in dealing with the minority government is that the centre, the Prime Minister's Office and his Cabinet, no longer has all the power."

Mr. Fontaine said that native political efforts will have to move beyond the old locus of power, with a long-term goal of building bridges with members of all parties. His speech earlier this week made it clear that the AFN was not content with the status quo and planned to work with government, opposition parties, non-governmental organizations and other native groups to push for substantive change.

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In his own comments Thursday, Mr. Scott struck a similar note, saying that his government will develop solutions "wherever they may originate."

"My priority is to work with you and partners such as the provinces and territories, aboriginal organizations, the private sector, the voluntary sector and others," he said. "We have come to realize that building the kind of future that we want requires the active participation of partners including other levels of government, aboriginal organizations, the private sector and all those who have a stake in a better future for first nations."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More


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