Non-aboriginal bureaucrat will head up commission

Published November 1, 2008

Some aboriginal groups have expressed concern that a non-aboriginal federal government bureaucrat has been appointed executive director of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Aideen Nabigon, who has worked as director of Health Canada’s Mental Health and Addictions division, has replaced Bob Watts, former chief of staff to the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine.
Mr. Watts told CBC News that he was surprised to receive a letter in September telling him that his services with the TRC had been terminated.

“I’m really at a loss to figure out what’s going on except it’s quite likely they’re not honouring the job offer they made me,” said Mr. Watts, who is from the Mohawk and Ojibway nations in Ontario.

Mr. Fontaine wondered if the federal government was behind the change in staff.

Edward John, a lawyer and member of the Union of British Columbia Chiefs, told the CBC that aboriginal leaders think the TRC executive director should not be a federal appointee.

“We certainly want to make sure there is someone there who understands residential schools, who understands survivors, and not just another mandarin from Ottawa,” Mr. John said.

Justice Harry LaForme, chief commissioner of the TRC, said he was exercising his independence in hiring Ms. Nabigon, who he described as having worked “on many aspects of the settlement agreement.”

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