Canadian News Jul 24, 2021 9:47 PM EST

Pallister, Indigenous Minister spur controversy over comments on residential schools

Several cabinet ministers and caucus members also condemned Pallister, posting statements saying that residential schools attempted to eliminate Indigenous culture.

Pallister, Indigenous Minister spur controversy over comments on residential schools
Alex Anas Ahmed Calgary, AB
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Several Indigenous representatives called on Manitoba's government to either re-evaluate its approach to First Nation issues or to call an election.

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak represents 26 northern First Nations communities. "Today, we are not here to topple any statues. We are here to topple a government that is racist, a government that has no place in this legislature," said Sette. According to the National Post, Sette stood alongside others on the steps of the legislature to protest Premier Brian Pallister's comments on Canadian history.

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs Organization, who represents 34 First Nations communities, said the Pallister government continues to fail to address issues, including lower Indigenous graduation rates, shorter lifespans, high rates of apprehension in the child welfare system, and a lack of recognition of treaty rights. Daniels said the government must allow Indigenous people more control over their own lives. "If Pallister can't lead, and his cabinet can't lead, they do need to resign," he said.

Mounting discontent continues to grow over Pallister's rebuttal following the toppling of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria statues at the legislature. He added that the statues would be rebuilt. Pallister urged against destruction and said it was not the way forward because those who came to Canada did not come to destroy, but rather to build communities, churches and businesses.

The premier faced condemnation over the alleged downplaying of the harm incurred by colonialism. Pallister defended his comments amid the public outcry and said he never mentioned or used the word colonialism. He claims his attempt was an appeal for unity. Several cabinet ministers and caucus members also condemned Pallister, including Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard, Families Minister Rochelle Squires and Tory backbencher Shannon Martin. The group posted statements on social media saying that residential schools attempted to eliminate Indigenous culture.

"I will never stand behind words that add hurt to traumatized people," wrote Guillemard: "That would mean denying the truth of my own journey, and it is not worth the sacrifice." She added: "Residential schools were designed to erase a culture. There is nothing good about that. Ever. Period."

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs lambasted Pallister's approach. "We bring forward meaningful solutions," said Dumas: "I give him every opportunity to have meaningful dialogue … but he'd rather talk at me."

However, the damage was done as his Indigenous relations minister resigned two days later. Her successor, Alan Lagimodiere, fueled anger further by defending the intent of residential schools, leading to a couple of Indigenous men resigning from provincial economic development boards.

The former deputy minister and treaty commissioner Jamie Wilson opposed the government's rewriting of history outright.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew interrupted a government press conference to confront the minister, urging him to "listen to the stories of survivors." He adds: "I cannot accept what you just said about residential schools. It was the expressed 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. Any right-minded person, at the time, should have known it was wrong."

Chiefs of Treaty 5 from northern and central Manitoba, released an action plan to promote heightened efforts to tackle discrimination and racism, including that regular reports be sent to the United Nations on the issue and new awareness campaigns.

The province did not comment on the grand chiefs' demands but said they would consider the ideas advocated by the Treaty 5 chiefs. "We look forward to reviewing the action plan and working collaboratively with Indigenous leaders and communities across the province," Lagimodiere's office wrote in a brief statement.

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