Development of Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs as a government department began when the first Northern Affairs Act was proclaimed in 1966. The Act gave the Northern Affairs Commission powers to provide designated northern communities with municipal services focused on physical infrastructure development.
In 1970, amendments to the Act created the Local Government Development Division, changing the focus to helping Northern Affairs communities develop self-government and provide their own municipal services.
A new act passed in 1974 moved Northern Affairs Commission responsibilities to the Minister of Northern Affairs and gave the Minister of Northern Affairs the responsibility to develop northern communities into incorporated, self-governing local entities.
During the 1970s and 1980s, increased emphasis on regional development resulted in federal/provincial cost sharing agreements to support development in Manitoba's north. Manitoba Northern Affairs took a lead role in negotiating and implementing the Canada/Manitoba Special Rural Development Agreement, the Northlands Agreement and the Northern Development Agreement.
The Northern Affairs Act provides the government with the authority to coordinate interprovincial and interjurisdictional initiatives, policies and strategies affecting northern Manitoba. The Agreements Management and Coordination division of the department has taken a lead role in the negotiation and implementation of the Northern Flood Agreement and treaty land entitlement.
In 1982, the Native Affairs Secretariat was created in response to increasing urbanization of Manitoba's Aboriginal population and related requirements for government services. The Secretariat served as an advisor, particularly on Aboriginal social and economic issues, and reported to the Minister Responsible for Native Affairs and the Native Affairs Committee of Cabinet.
Responding to growing emphasis on self-governance, the Native Affairs Secretariat participated in tri-partite negotiations between the province, Canada and Aboriginal community representatives.
In 1999, the department was renamed Aboriginal and Northern Affairs. The Secretariat was amalgamated with the Agreements Management and Coordination Division and was renamed Aboriginal Affairs Secretariat. The reorganized department, as partners and consultants, is committed to working with Aboriginal and northern Manitobans to help address the issues affecting them.