Years of effort and planning to get a statue of Chief Peguis erected on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature took a giant step forward on Wednesday.
With $500,000 from the province to help build the monument — which commemorates the Selkirk Treaty of 1817 — organizers are now able to launch a design competition.
“Building this monument is a step in our journey to reconciliation,” said Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere, who two weeks ago faced heavy criticism for saying those who ran residential schools believed “they were doing the right thing.”
The comments came 10 minutes after he was sworn in as the cabinet minister.
Asked on Wednesday what efforts he has personally made to make amends and move forward with Indigenous leaders, Lagimodiere said he is “on a listening and learning journey right now,” taking time to better understand the direction that First Nations are asking the government to head in.
He said he has met with chiefs, councils and community members of various First Nations.
He has participated in smudging ceremonies, toured former residential school sites and met with survivors whose stories overwhelmed him, he said.
The Selkirk Treaty was the first formal written agreement recognizing Indigenous land rights in Western Canada. It preceded the numbered treaties that followed. Treaty 1, which includes most of southern Manitoba, was signed 54 years later in 1871.
The 1817 document was signed north of the growing city of Winnipeg, between Thomas Douglas, the fifth earl of Selkirk and one of the owners of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and five First Nations chiefs brought together by Peguis.
Selkirk and his representatives had negotiated with chiefs for use by the Selkirk Settlers of the land along both sides of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in exchange for an annual payment or gift.
The monument is intended to promote reconciliation between First Nations and non-Indigenous Manitobans, and remind all Manitobans of the historic spirit of sharing, co-operation and conciliation between Chief Peguis and allied chiefs and Lord Selkirk, says a news release from the province.
It will feature a statue of Chief Peguis with inscriptions that pay tribute to all of the treaty’s signatory chiefs, acknowledge the violations of the treaty by settlers, and recognize the contributions of First Nations peoples in the founding, naming and development of Manitoba.
The exact spot for the monument has not yet been identified. The province said in a news release that it will be installed in “a prominent location” on the legislative grounds.
Lagimodiere was asked about the potential for it to replace or be near the statue of Queen Victoria that was toppled and beheaded on Canada Day, the target of protesters angered by the discovery of what are believed to be unmarked burial sites of hundreds of Indigenous children at former residential schools.
Lagimodiere said he would let the committee organizing the creation of the monument take the lead on that.
Similarly, there is no timeline for when it will be completed and erected, he said.
“A lot of work needs to proceed before we get to the point where we know exactly when the statue will be put up,” Lagimodiere said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the designs that come back and the direction the committee wants to take on this.”
The push for the monument has been headed up by the Committee to Commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Peguis Selkirk Treaty, a volunteer group founded in 2016 with representation from more than 20 Indigenous and non-Indigenous governments and organizations.
It is responsible for soliciting design proposals and raising funds to cover costs associated with the design, construction and installation of the monument.
It is also responsible for capital contributions to an endowment fund that will be used for future maintenance of the monument.