Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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SaskParty appoints first aboriginal woman to cabinet in party history

In the cabinet shuffle, Jennifer Campeau became the first female First Nations cabinet member for the party

Reported by Kelly Malone


The Saskatchewan Party made party history during its cabinet shuffle with the appointment of their first First Nations woman cabinet minister.

During the June 5 shuffle, Jennifer Campeau was appointed Minister of Central Services and Minister responsible for Saskatchewan Transportation Corporation. The appointment is the first of its kind for the party and only the second time in provincial history.

"I am very honoured to have this position and I'm committing to working hard as usual," Campeau said on Meeting Ground.

"It's huge. First of all I didn't think I was going to get to this point this quickly because I have only been an MLA for a little more than two years and definitely those two years have been a learning curve."

Already with a lot of life experience Campeau is certainly up for another challenge.

"(Growing up) I lived in Saskatoon in an urban setting in the core areas. Between that I was in residential school," Campeau, who is a member of the Yellow Quill First Nation, said.

"I was the last generation to be there."

Her family relocated to Ottawa when she started high school, a move which changed her path in life as well.

"Moving to the big city was quite an adjustment and I ended up not finishing school," she said.

Campeau then "met a boy" and moved down to the United States after starting a family with him.

"(When I) had my daughter I realized that I needed to go to school," she said.

Campeau came back to Saskatchewan and received her business management degree and an MBA from the University of Saskatchewan. When she wasn't working on school she was working with First Nation and Metis organizations.

"I started my PHD and was looking at basically rebuilding indigenous economies in Saskatchewan using business development and ended up getting elected," she said.

It was her first time officially in the political realm when she was elected in 2011 but she said politics runs in her family. Her uncles were involved with the Jim Sinclair Metis movement from the 1960s through the 1980s.

"Growing up around that, there was an interest and when I was able to work when I was 15 and in high school and I was able to work for... the Native Council of Canada (now the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples)," she said.

Campeau said her political influences include Sheila Copps, Lynda Haverstock, and SaskParty Minister June Draude.

"My First Nation is around (Draude's) area and she was designated as an honorary elder quite a few years back from my First Nation. I did have those role models but they weren't specifically Aboriginal," Campeau said.

Former NDP Minister Joan Beatty was the first First Nations person elected to the Saskatchewan legislature in 2003. She was appointed to cabinet a month later.

"When Joan Beatty was a MLA and being from the north, she was definitely someone I followed as well," Campeau said, adding having more Aboriginal leadership is important.

"I have had quite a few people come up to me because they are comfortable with me. Also kids who see someone like them in government, someone who looks like them, it makes them a little bit more comfortable to talk to me."

Campeau said when people see First Nations people in leadership roles it also makes them more connected with what is going on in the province.

"When I was campaigning, I did have a few people basically state that provincial politics has nothing to do with them and then I quickly reminded them that even if you live on reserve and you step off reserve you are on provincial roads," she said.

"Just having that conversation and creating that awareness also just having someone there, I wouldn't want to be so arrogant to think, but as a bridge builder."

She said the leadership role also means certain responsibilities that she doesn't take lightly.

"I definitely want to make these (First Nations) kids proud of me. I have to take that into account as well in how I live my life," she said.

There is also a lot of educational work to do with non-First Nations people with her role.

"There is this misconception when people from outside of Saskatchewan come.... and visit and meet me and they automatically think I'm from the north and I have to explain to them that I was elected in an urban constituency and my constituents are very diverse," she said.

As for her new portfolio, Campeau said she plans to take the summer and work through it all and go on building tours around the province.

"There is a lot to learn and also now I'm going to have another learning curve but its something to look forward to and I have the summer to review my new duties and just to adjust," she said.

"I'm a big nerd anyway I love to read. But also tying that in with the history of the province, that also makes it a little easier to digest the information."

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