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Maritime advocates react to historic day for diversity in Canadian politics

In less than 24 hours, Canadians witnessed two historic moments in the nation’s political history, and indigenous and black leaders in the Maritimes hail both as a reason for hope in efforts to expand diversity in politics.

The moments came Tuesday, with the election of the first black speaker in the House of Commons, followed hours later by the election of Canada’s first First Nations premier in Manitoba.

For those who have worked in indigenous rights for decades, Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew's victory shows indigenous youth what the future can hold.

“He’s a young man,” says Mi’kmaw elder Lorraine Peters-Whitman, “and he’s a good voice for the youth…and he connects with the youth…And I know he will serve us well, even though I’m in Mi'kma'ki, Nova Scotia, he'll serve us all well.”

“And he comes from two worlds,” she adds, “his father was Anishinaabe, and his mom is non-indigenous, and when you look at that, he’s bringing both of them together…so I think he’s going to do excellent for the people, not only the indigenous, but all people.”

After spending years raising awareness about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada, Peters-Whitman also believes Kinew will honor a pledge he made during his election campaign in support of a search of a Winnipeg area landfill for the remains of two slain indigenous women.

“He's a compassionate young man, he has all the credentials of bringing that forth, and being there for the people,” she says.

Kinew's majority government win came within hours of another Canadian first – the election of Quebec MP Greg Fergus as the first Black Speaker of the House of Commons.

The Speaker is selected by secret ballot by all members of Parliament, and retired Nova Scotia Senator Donald Oliver says he was thrilled by the selection.

“He's quiet, he's calm, he's diplomatic, he's very bright, and he understands the parliamentary system inside out,” says Oliver from his home in Pleasant River.

Oliver knows what it’s like to make political history, after becoming the first Black man to sit in the Senate back in 1990.

Now retired, Oliver says he knows Fergus and is well aware of what his new role as Speaker of the House represents.

“And I’m so happy that’s he’s now showing other parts of the world, we not only talk diversity, here it is. And here it is as expressed by parties and members of the House of Commons,” says Oliver.

The chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, Velma Morgan, happened to be on Parliament Hill Tuesday along with 20 Black youth participating in the organization’s 1834 fellowship program.

She says having the opportunity to see Fergus take the Speaker’s seat in Parliament was inspiring.

“Also for our young people, they're seeing that they can be and do whatever it is they want to do in Canada,” says Morgan.

“And they might have not been interested in (or) didn’t know who the speaker was before, but they know who the speaker is now,” she says.

“I think it makes people more interested in politics, now that you’re seeing somebody that looks like you, that has very similar experiences as you do,” Morgan adds. Top Stories

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