Indigenous leaders in Manitoba have praised Premier Kelvin Goertzen for striking a collaborative tone even as they lobby him to scrap a handful of contentious bills.

Indigenous leaders in Manitoba have praised Premier Kelvin Goertzen for striking a collaborative tone even as they lobby him to scrap a handful of contentious bills.

"He called me within an hour or so after he was announced (as premier on Sept. 1). I think that's significant, and we're looking towards having conversations and dialogue," said Manitoba Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

Goertzen replaced Brian Pallister, who resigned as premier after five years of driving much of his government's policies and legislation.

Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand said Goertzen should proceed with an Indigenous land acknowledgement without holding a consultations; the NDP had argued that would only delay implementing one. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitoba Metis Federation President David Chartrand said Goertzen should proceed with an Indigenous land acknowledgement without holding a consultations; the NDP had argued that would only delay implementing one. (Daniel Crump / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The Manitoba Metis Federation, which clashed with Pallister for years over various issues, has also sensed a massive shift in direction in the short time since Goertzen took over.

"They want a new relationship; they definitely want to sit down and create that partnership and nation-to-nation recognition," said president David Chartrand.

On Tuesday, Goertzen said he was open to adding an Indigenous land acknowledgement, in addition to a prayer, at the start of daily sittings of the legislature.

Lagimodiere might redeem himself: Chartrand

The head of the Manitoba Metis Federation said Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere might be able to overcome his rocky start.

The head of the Manitoba Metis Federation said Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere might be able to overcome his rocky start.

“I’m waiting to see,” said federation President David Chartrand.

“This olive branch is now being given by the (PC) Party, to sit down with the Métis government.”

Lagimodiere made national news when he said residential schools were started with good intentions, just moments after he was sworn in. That had followed his predecessor’s resignation over former premier Brian Pallister’s racially charge comments on the motives of colonizers. Lagimodiere later apologized for those remarks.

Chartrand said the Métis already felt excluded, with the province partnering more with First Nations on everything from COVID-19 data-sharing to the official Manitoba 150 celebrations.

On Tuesday, Chartrand said he spoke with Lagimodiere, after having publicly declined a call on July 15.

“He thanked me for the call. I told him a lot, and he said 'what do we do from here?'" Chartrand said.

He asked Lagimodiere to have departmental staff be more cooperative, from simply addressing correspondence to the correct person to giving advanced notice when funding agreements won’t be renewed.

“It has to be from the deputy minister, all the way down.”

 

— Dylan Robertson

He announced last week he would scrap five controversial pieces of legislation, including a bill that would ban protesters from railways, which was sparked by national demonstrations in support of hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en band in B.C. as they fought against a pipeline in early 2020.

Although Goertzen's approach is a welcome change, the Tory government passed legislation in May that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs opposes. The bills deal with the sale of Crown land, trespassing laws, and ending the First Nations' exemption from smoking regulations.

The AMC had asked the Tories to scrap those bills, and could sue now that they are law.

Manitoba Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said that Goertzen called him within an hour of becoming premier. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Manitoba Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said that Goertzen called him within an hour of becoming premier. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Meanwhile, the PC government's 2020 budget bill gave the province retroactive authority to claw back money from the federal baby bonus for kids in foster care, which it has done for years.

This week, the assembly filed its submission in a court challenge to the budget bill, arguing it breaches the Constitution to have Manitoba retroactively absolve itself of liability, and to bar future court challenges of the clawback.

The assembly argues the Pallister government has treated foster kids "as commodities instead of protecting and caring for their well-being and safety," and that the province is breaching the 2005 child-welfare reforms laid out in the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry.

"There are some very contentious issues that are happening; a lot of it is very wrong-minded and tone deaf, and hopefully the new premier can take a look at these things," Dumas said.

"In good faith I will challenge this new leader to really take a look at the processes his predecessor initiated, and remove them, so we can actually have a proper and meaningful conversation."

Indigenous leaders in Manitoba have praised Premier Kelvin Goertzen for striking a collaborative tone. (David Lipnowski / Canadian Press files)

CP

Indigenous leaders in Manitoba have praised Premier Kelvin Goertzen for striking a collaborative tone. (David Lipnowski / Canadian Press files)

The Métis federation is also planning its own legal challenge to the child-welfare clawback. The federation has issues with the Tory government, including Pallister's decision to scrap a multimillion-dollar payout from Manitoba Hydro to the Métis in early 2018.

The Métis also want the province to change its messaging on Interlake flood outlets, saying the government mischaracterized environmental concerns as holding up the project.

"Goertzen made it very clear that his government wants to strike a new relationship with the Métis in Manitoba," said Chartrand, who said the premier promised to examine the issues and get back to him.

"Two months is a long time, in politics."

Both Dumas and Chartrand said they want the Manitoba government to work collaboratively with Indigenous leaders instead of dragging disputes through the courts.

Chartrand said Goertzen should proceed with an Indigenous land acknowledgement without holding a consultations; the NDP had argued that would only delay implementing one.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca