Canada

‘You can’t be out here defending residential schools’: Opposition leader calls out Manitoba’s new Indigenous relations minister

WINNIPEG —
It was a tense start for Manitoba’s new Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister, who was called out publicly by the province’s opposition leader over comments he made about residential schools.

PC MLA Alan Lagimodiere entered Premier Brian Pallister’s cabinet Thursday morning, being sworn in as the new Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister.

READ MORE: Pallister announces new cabinet ministers after two ministers resign

The province said Lagimodiere, who is Métis, has been mandated to develop an agenda for reconciliation in consultation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit leadership.

During his first public appearance minutes after being sworn in as minister, Lagimodiere said of residential schools that he believes at the time, “they really did think that they were doing the right thing.”

“From my knowledge of it, the residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the kind of skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moves forward,” Lagimodiere said.

The comments sparked immediate backlash from the province’s opposition leader.

“I cannot accept you saying what you just said about residential schools,” Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew told Lagimodiere.

“It was the express intent of residential schools to kill the Indian in the child—it is not cultural relativism, it is not revisionist history for us to say that that was wrong.”

Kinew went on to tell Lagimodiere that if he is going to take his appointment as the Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister seriously, he has to change his opinion.

“You can’t be out here defending residential schools if you want to work with Indigenous communities.”

A since deleted statement posted on Twitter by the PC Caucus said it is committed to reconciliation and accused Kinew of political showmanship and bullying for interrupting the new minister.

Lagimodiere took on the new role after former Indigenous and northern affairs minister Eileen Clarke resigned from the role. The resignation came a week after Pallister made comments regarding colonial settlers.

READ MORE: Indigenous affairs minister steps down from Manitoba cabinet following premier’s comments about colonial settlers

In a statement posted on his Twitter account, Lagimodiere said he misspoke regarding residential schools.

“As an Indigenous Manitoban, I sincerely believe that residential schools were tragic and were designed to assimilate Indigenous children and eradicate Indigenous culture. That was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”

Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said he was appalled by Lagimodiere’s comments.

“It didn’t take long for the new minister to show where his true loyalties lie,” Daniels said in a statement. “It only goes to show, that this premier and his dwindling base of followers are beyond out of touch and have no business being in charge of any departments that involve reconciliation with First Nations.”

It is a concern shared by newly re-elected Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs who called the comments racist.

“It is apparent the new Minister has already signaled that nothing will change and will perhaps regress to the detriment of First Nations citizens,” Dumas said in the statement.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) called Lagimodiere’s comments “appalling and reprehensible” and said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proved the intent of the residential schools was ‘cultural genocide’ and to ‘kill the Indian in the child.’

“It is shameful the comments from this new Minister and the Premier serve to make light of the deaths of the thousands of children that have resulted from these institutions and are now just being discovered,” Settee said in a statement.

“Any progress at reconciliation has been set back and may be impossible while this government is in power.”


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