Alberta Minister of Indigenous Relations and MLA for Maskwacis-Wetaskiwin, Rick Wilson, reflects on the main issues and topics his office tackled in 2020, and their plans for 2021.
One of Wilson’s major priorities this year was focusing on the spread of COVID-19 in the community and throughout Maskwacis.
Wilson worked closely with leaders in Maskwacis and Alberta Health Services on COVID-19 prevention and safety.
“A lot of first nations have been doing awesome, we have a lot of first nations that only have one case on them so that’s some really good news. And some of the others where we have had outbreaks, the chiefs have been awesome working with us.”
Wilson was also a part of the signing of the new protocol agreement for Treaty 6 in 2020.
“I just signed a new protocol agreement for Treaty 6. I’ve actually signed protocol agreements with all the Treaties,” says Wilson. “I’ve been so blessed to be able to travel across the province and meet with all the amazing leaders.”
The new protocols are essentially a table as to how the provincial government officials will work with the First Nations in these Treaty areas. It will guarantee them a meeting with the Premier once a year. Tables were also set up with various other Ministries including but not limited to Children’s Services—so the First Nation groups will be able to meet regularly with the Minister of Children’s Services to determine the best way to go about helping children in need in the area, transportation for highway needs, health, and justice.
Minister Wilson says the new Treaty signing is the first in many years.
“It was kind of a historic signing to do that with them and we work really close with a lot of Treaty 6,” says Wilson. “So to get these agreements in place has been a big part of my mandate, the Premier actually gave me a mandate to get that done.”
Wilson also worked with Alberta Indigenous groups on creating a partnership to develop a power plant in Alberta.
Six First Nations came together and partnered with Cascade power by Hinton to build a power plant run by natural gas. This will be a clean burning natural gas to lower Alberta’s carbon footprint.
“That power plant is going to produce 8 per cent of Alberta’s power,” says Wilson. He adds that the Alberta Government backstopped about $93 Million for this project as partners. “It was a $1.5 billion project overall,” he says.
Wilson says that there will be about 400 people working on building the plant over the next few years.
“All these things are designed to not only help First Nations but to help all of Albertans because when the First Nations thrive we’re all going to thrive. We are in this together.”
In 2021 one of Wilson’s mandates is to get broadband internet set up in some of the more remote Indigenous communities.
“It’s especially important now with COVID with kids not being able to go to school, they could be at home and work on the internet. Even for a lot of people… most of them work from home now,” says Wilson.
In 2020 Wilson participated in numerous events held by his constituents, “I was honoured to be invited to several events, even locally.”
A panel was put together in 2020 with Indigenous women and three MLAs for recommendations off the recent reports on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). The panel is set to come forward in the spring of 2021 with recommendations on how communities can move forward with ending the violence that has been inflicted on Indigenous women.
MLA Wilson was also present and spoke at the Sisters in Spirit Vigil event held in Wetaskiwin on Oct. 4, 2020.
One of the big things that MLA Wilson is focusing on locally for Wetaskiwin in 2021 is tackling homelessness. “We have a lot of people experiencing homelessness here. So we’ve been working really close with other Ministries like Community Services and Addictions and Mental Health, on putting together a plan on how we can help these people,” Wilson says.
Wilson adds that the province has given quite a bit of funding to help with the program that Wetaskiwin is running for people experiencing homelessness.
In 2021 Wilson says that a round table will be established to discuss mental illness and addiction in the Wetaskiwin/ Maskwacis area. Wilson says that this will help in lot of areas locally including reducing the crime rate, reducing the amount of people in the local emergency rooms and reducing mental health issues that come from isolation due to COVID-19.
Wilson reflects that a large part of what got Albertan’s through 2020 was the tireless work of our front line workers. He got emotional speaking about them. “A big thing is just to thank all our front line workers out there. The nurses and the doctors, the staff, even people like at the grocery stores—those are front line workers. Just a big hats off to them and thank you for getting us through these tough times.”