Opinion

Alan Lagimodiere, Manitoba’s new Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations minister, is a nice man.

Alan Lagimodiere, Manitoba’s new Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations minister, is a nice man.

He’s Métis and, while certainly not the first Indigenous person to serve in that role, having one in that position is always notable.

I know him and his family, because he’s MLA for Selkirk, my hometown. His family started the veterinary clinic there and cared for our family dog.

I later worked with his son at the University of Manitoba.

He’s originally from The Pas and has a mixed heritage. I’m not sure what Métis community Lagimodiere draws his Métis identity from, but Opaskwayak Cree Nation is right across the river and the two communities are deeply intertwined.

Selkirk, of course, is the original site of Peguis First Nation before our removal in 1907. Many people in the community are First Nations, Métis, mixed or all of the above. It’s no surprise Lagimodiere would end up here, because many of us are like him.

Lagimodiere is unprepared to be a minister of Indigenous relations, as evidenced by his factually incorrect and offensive comments surrounding residential schools just minutes after being inserted into the role. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Lagimodiere is unprepared to be a minister of Indigenous relations, as evidenced by his factually incorrect and offensive comments surrounding residential schools just minutes after being inserted into the role. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

As a result, I’ve always felt a kinship with Lagimodiere. I’ve traded emails with him, seen him at events, and greeted him warmly.

He’s also someone woefully unprepared to be a minister of Indigenous relations, as evidenced by his factually incorrect, preposterous and offensive comments surrounding residential schools just minutes after being inserted into the role by Premier Brian Pallister.

Asked by reporters if he supported Pallister’s recent comments that European settlers "didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came to build" (a factually incorrect statement), Lagimodiere floundered.

"In retrospect, it's easy to judge in the past. But at the time, they really thought that they were doing the right thing…. From my knowledge of it, 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."

These are more factually incorrect statements, as pointed out seconds later in an unprecedented public exchange with Wab Kinew, an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who walked up to the podium to confront Lagimodiere.

"I cannot accept you saying what you just said about residential schools…. It was the expressed intent of residential schools to kill the Indian in the child," Kinew told him. "It is not cultural relativism, it is not revisionist history, for us to say that that was wrong."

Kinew, of course, is also Manitoba's NDP leader, but he was not acting politically.

If NDP leader Wab Kinew sat silently while incorrect statements were made publicly, he would have failed the TRC and residential school survivors. (Steve Lambert / The Canadian Press)

CP

If NDP leader Wab Kinew sat silently while incorrect statements were made publicly, he would have failed the TRC and residential school survivors. (Steve Lambert / The Canadian Press)

In 2014 — before entering politics — he was tasked by the commissioners of the TRC to be a witness to survivor statements.

He was to listen to survivors, share what he learned, and do that for the rest of his life.

If Kinew sat by silently while incorrect statements were made publicly, he would have failed the TRC, residential school survivors (including his father) and Canadians who entrusted him with that responsibility.

I repeat: Kinew’s statements were not political, they were a responsibility.

Remarkably, no one intervened to help Lagimodiere — even though it was a news conference organized by the government. No one stepped forward to clarify his comments, offer more context or interrupt Kinew.

Hopefully that's because people know what he said was wrong. We can’t forget that, literally, as the exchange was taking place, the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc were holding a news conference in British Columbia calling on the government and the Catholic Church to provide records and resources to help them identify children in unmarked graves near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

But it’s more likely that Pallister and others in the government who were there didn’t know what to do.

Lagimodiere later claimed he misspoke. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Lagimodiere later claimed he misspoke. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

You can’t make an argument — never mind govern — when you don’t know the truth.

Lagimodiere, was rendered virtually speechless, without the ability to continue in his new job, frankly. How will any Indigenous person take seriously what he says now?

Later in the day, he issued a statement saying he "misspoke."

The PC caucus issued a tweet accusing Kinew of "political showmanship" and being a "bully" — more factually incorrect statements in what is a seemingly endless supply of ignorance about Indigenous peoples from a government overseeing a province in which they make up 20 per cent of the population.

The tweet was eventually erased.

In the end, I feel sorry for Lagimodiere. He is not unlike most Canadians, who have been served poorly by Canadian schools, taught incorrect information by clergy, teachers and politicians and are woefully unprepared to have conversations about reconciliation.

The fact he is Métis and knows nothing about residential schools is evidence, too, of how badly Indigenous peoples have been served by society’s educational institutions. I hope he gets some support to rectify that.

The problem is Lagimodiere isn’t just any Canadian; he is in charge of reconciliation and standing beside a woefully unprepared and incorrect statement-making premier.

Two men in charge, confronted with realities they aren’t prepared for, and having no idea what to do.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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