First Nations representatives harshly called out the Manitoba government on Monday, labelling recent comments by Premier Brian Pallister and cabinet minister Alan Lagimodiere as propaganda and demanding the latter’s resignation.
Standing on the front steps of the legislative building, the Summit of Treaty 5 Sovereign Nations (STFSN) announced an action plan to combat the Progressive Conservative government “and their deliberate attempt to distort the history of Indigenous peoples regarding the policy of genocide at residential schools,” said Jason Mercredi of Misipawistik Cree Nation.
Pallister’s government has shown indifference toward First Nations and made public statements that amount to provocation and racism against First Nations, saying the premier’s comments are “racist political propaganda distorting and romanticizing colonialism,” the STFSN stated in a news release.
During a Canada Day rally in Winnipeg, following the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools in Canada, statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were pulled down on the grounds of the Manitoba legislature.
Pallister denounced the actions and made comments that suggested the colonization of Canada was done with good intentions.
The people who came to Canada “didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came here to build. They came to build better,” he said.
Remarks prompted minister to step down
The remarks provoked the resignation of Pallister’s own Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke, who stepped down from her cabinet position two days later.
In doing so, Clarke said many Manitobans are disappointed with their representatives, and added that she and other cabinet ministers had not been listened to.
She was replaced by Lagimodiere, who, within 10 minutes of his appointment on July 15, told reporters the people who ran Indian residential schools believed “they were doing the right thing.”
“In retrospect, it’s easy to judge in the past. But at the time, they really thought that they were doing the right thing,” he said.
“From my knowledge of it, the residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moved forward.”
WATCH | Alan Lagimodiere called out for remarks on residential schools
Lagimodiere has since apologized, saying his words were wrong but the fallout has continued.
Two Indigenous men, Jamie Wilson and Darrell Brown, quit their positions on Manitoba economic development boards shortly after Lagimodiere’s comments.Wilson had previously served as a deputy minister in two departments under the Progressive Conservative government and was the treaty commissioner for Manitoba
“At a time when our people are recovering children’s bodies and our survivors are finally starting to be acknowledged by the general public, the comments by the PC government has caused a setback by the use of such irresponsible and volatile words,” said Chief Clarence Easter of Chemawawin Cree Nation.
“We are stepping to the plate to deal with this.”
Action plan calls for new minister to step down
The action plan unveiled by the STFSN calls for alliances between the Treaty 5 First Nations and affiliate organizations to work together to respond to hate crime and racism.
Treaty 5 includes more than 100,000 people from 37 First Nations in Manitoba and three in Saskatchewan, according to the STFSN.
The plan calls for:
- Hate crimes and racism to be standing discussion items at every annual gathering of Treaty 5 Nations, beginning Aug. 10.
- To promote non violence and avoid destruction of property.
- To develop a report on hate crimes and racism and report them to the United Nations.
- To conduct an awareness campaign on he prevalence and effects of hate crimes and racism.
- To lobby the federal government to do more to criminalize hate crimes and racism, saying the Criminal Code currently does little to deter it.
- To condemn and publicly expose hate crimes and racism and hate propaganda through First Nations social media.
- To create a task force of academics, elders and youth to enact the actions.
One of the first actions of the plan on Monday was to call for Lagimodiere to step down from his cabinet position.
“Dr. Alan Lagimodiere proved himself as an embarrassment to reconciliation and Indigenous relations,” said Chief Sheldon Kent of Black River First Nation.
“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.”