Manitoba Indigenous leaders decry minister, provincial government for residential schools comments

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Arlen Dumas took direct aim at newly appointed Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere during a July 19 press conference, after the Progressive Conservative MLA made comments last week defending the intentions of Canada’s residential school system.

“Who in their right mind can say we found 1,505 babies murdered, murdered in these schools, hidden and buried in the ground, and in the same breath say the residential schools were a good thing?” Dumas asked during a fiery and impassioned speech on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature on Monday.

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“Who can say that in their right mind?”

During the press conference at the Legislature on Monday, the Summit of Treaty 5 Sovereign Nations (Treaty 5) introduced their brand new Action Plan on Hate Crime and Racism.

In a press release, Treaty 5 said the purpose of the 12-point plan was to “combat hate crime and racism triggered by the Manitoba Conservative government’s deliberate attempt to distort the history of First Nations, which minimize the effects of colonialism, and the policy of genocide at Indian Residential Schools.”

The press conference came just days after Lagimodiere defended the intentions of the residential school system just moments into his first press conference after taking on the role as the province’s Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister.

Manitoba Indigenous leaders stood on the steps of the Manitoba Legislature during Monday’s press conference and blasted the PC government for what they said was “indifference” towards Indigenous people and issues.

“You hear elected officials who continue to rest on the laurels of archaic policy and legislation that was developed in racism, and continue to perpetuate it today,” Dumas said.

Dumas also made it clear he is no longer interested in speaking with or working with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, because of how frustrated he has been with their conversations in the past.

“I give him every opportunity to have meaningful dialogue, we bring forward meaningful solutions to work together hand-in-hand to move forward, but he would rather talk at me,” Dumas said.

“First Nations deserve better, we all deserve better.”

On Monday, Dumas also brought up his own personal experience with family members who were in residential schools, and said that from those experiences it was even harder to accept what Lagimodiere said on Thursday.

“Telling my mother that what happened to her in residential schools was OK, and my grandparents, my aunties and my uncles, to say it was OK,” Dumas said about Lagimodiere’s July 15 comments.

Dumas ended his speech by challenging all Manitobans to stand with Indigenous people moving forward.

“I don’t challenge Mr. Pallister for anything, I don’t challenge Mr. Lagimodiere to do anything or apologize, because it’s not going to matter and it won’t mean anything.

“I challenge the people of Manitoba to walk with us. The people are the power, and if the government does not want to work with the people, then do something about it.”

During Monday’s press conference, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said he and others are still willing to work with the province, but said it is time for the province to completely change their approach to dealing with Indigenous issues, or step aside if things remain the same.

“Either change the institutions, or we’ll change them for you,” Settee said. “Hand them over, and we’ll show you how to manage them.”

In a press release Monday, Chief Sheldon Kent of Black River First Nation said that the only option for Lagimodiere at this point would be to step down from his new role.

"Dr. Alan Lagimodiere proved himself as an embarrassment to reconciliation and Indigenous relations,” Kent said in a statement. "His comments were harmful, retriggering anger and discontent among our people. There was no good intention at Indian residential schools to promote, and it is catastrophically irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

"We call for his resignation, and he must step down."

In a July 19 statement to the Winnipeg Sun, a spokesperson for Pallister said “our government remains focused on advancing reconciliation and working respectfully and collaboratively with all Indigenous and all non-Indigenous Manitobans on this important path forward."

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the government of Canada.

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