Just minutes after he was sworn in, Manitoba’s new minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations was directly challenged in the legislature building after he said those who ran residential schools “believed they were doing the right thing.”
Speaking to reporters, Alan Lagimodiere said his understanding of the residential school system was that it was meant to give Indigenous children the skills they needed to fit into society.
Lagimodiere was then interrupted by Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew, who said he could not accept Lagimodiere’s comments, which appeared to be defending residential schools.
“It was the expressed intent of residential schools to kill the Indian in the child,” Kinew said.
“It is not cultural relativism, it is not revisionist history, for us to say that that was wrong.”
Lagimodiere, who is Métis, was responding to questions about the resignation of Eileen Clarke as minister of Indigenous and northern relations in light of comments made by Premier Brian Pallister, which suggested the colonization of Canada was done with good intentions.
Kinew went on to say that Lagimodiere can’t defend residential schools if he wants to work with Indigenous communities.
“We all know that that was wrong,” Kinew said.
Lagimodiere was then pressed by reporters on what he believed the intention of residential schools was, to which he responded “to assimilate Indigenous people into the non-Indigenous culture.”
The minister has since tweeted an apology for his comments, saying he misspoke:
Please see my statement below. <a href=”https://t.co/tNzE5bSM6U”>pic.twitter.com/tNzE5bSM6U</a>
During his own news conference, Kinew said he could not not stand by and listen to Lagimodiere say what he did.
He said as an honourary witness in the Truth and Reconcilation Commission, he had a duty to correct the record.
“This is not just a political issue, this is about our society, this is about where we live,” Kinew said.
Pallister defends comments, again
Earlier in the day, Pallister doubled down on the controversial comments he made last week, when he chastised people involved in pulling down statues of Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth on the grounds of the legislature on Canada Day after a walk for Indigenous children who died at residential schools.
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 last week.
On Thursday, he said his comments were misinterpreted and that he was paying tribute to Canadians and pre-Canada builders.
“I spoke about people who came here with hope to build families and communities. I spoke with sincerity. I spoke genuinely,” he said.
“I did not reference colonialism, I did not reference Europeans in any way, shape or form. I was talking about our First Peoples, I was talking about our Métis. I was talking about the people who came after them.”
Asked how he could still defend those remarks when Indigenous cultures were destroyed by European settlers, Pallister said: “Read my comments. Indigenous people were the first Canadians, they were newcomers at that point in time.”
“They forged a life by building. They worked diligently to do that for millennia.”
Subsequent newcomers couldn’t have survived without the partnerships, support and shared knowledge from the Indigenous people, he added.
Pallister had also defended his comments Wednesday after Clarke’s resignation, saying “I continue to advocate that we build and not destroy.”