The Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba (PC) is facing public backlash over its recent handling of inappropriate comments made by cabinet ministers and Premier Brian Pallister.
Newly sworn-in Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Alan Lagimodiere stated in a July 15 press conference that “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.”
Moments later, New Democratic Party and opposition leader Wab Kinew approached the stand to challenge Lagimodiere. “I’ve listened to the stories of the survivors and I cannot accept you saying what you just said about residential schools,” Kinew said.
“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.”
In a Twitter post hours later, Lagimodiere claimed he “misspoke” during the press conference. He formally apologized for his statements the following day.
A few hours after Lagimodiere backtracked online, the Manitoba PC Caucus tweeted the following:
“We are all committed to meaningful progress on reconciliation. The political showmanship of storming into someone else’s press conference to bully a minister who was sworn in only 10 minutes earlier does nothing to advance that reconciliation.”
Within the hour, the tweet had been deleted.
Among the hundreds of subsequent replies, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs expressed his support for Kinew’s actions and stated that “It is unacceptable to continually disparage First Nations in the most hurtful ways during these times of grieving and suffering over the [Indian residential school] system and the graves of our children.”
Manitoba’s Liberal Party leader Dougald Lamont also condemned Lagimodiere’s comments.
“It is shocking for a minister to go up there and run his mouth, say a bunch of things that are frankly ignorant, while he is being appointed minister of reconciliation,” said Lamont.
Lamont added that the province’s record on Indigenous issues “has been among the worst in Canada.”
“We talk about residential schools, we talk about the past, but we’re not actually willing to talk about the truly terrible things […] that happened in the last 20 years and continue to happen right now,” he said. “And as long as we refuse to acknowledge the truth about those issues, we’re not going to see justice and we’re not going to see reconciliation.”
Lamont elaborated further, “When you see a homeless Indigenous person, […] chances are they were involved in [Chilwd and Family Services], and chances are their money was taken from them by the Manitoba government.”