After two statues of British queens were toppled at Manitoba’s legislature on Canada Day, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister made the bold but telling claim that settlers who came to Canada “didn’t come to destroy anything, they came here to build, they came to build better…They built these things for themselves.”
His words sparked outrage from all corners. But Pallister is absolutely right in one sense. Settlers and their governments did come to this continent with the express intention of “building” an empire of power and wealth from stolen Indigenous lands and resources, and Black and Indigenous slave labour. This empire that they built was most certainly for “themselves” and was fortified with genocidal laws, policies and practices that resulted in the deaths of millions.
But where Pallister is categorically wrong is in his claim that settlers and their governments never intended to destroy anything. You cannot build a capitalist society founded on the exploitation of Indigenous lands and bodies without destroying Indigenous societies. To state otherwise, is simply wrong.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls found Canada guilty of both historic and ongoing genocide – a finding that confirmed Canada’s destructive intentions. The National Inquiry found:
Canada’s colonial history provides ample evidence of the existence of a genocidal policy a manifest pattern of similar conduct which reflects an intention to destroy Indigenous peoples.
They went on to conclude:
Canada has displayed a continuous policy with shifting expressed motives but an ultimately steady intention, to destroy Indigenous peoples physically, biologically, and as social units.
And this is not news. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) explained that the intention behind Canada’s so-called “Indian policy” was to destroy Indigenous peoples. The TRC explained the different ways in which cultural, biological, and physical acts of genocide can occur and concluded:
In its dealings with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.
The moral of our shared story is that Canada is guilty of one of the most violent and destructive crimes known to humankind – genocide. To deny Canada’s destructive intentions is to deny the crime of genocide. Pallister’s denial of what happened is more than white-washing history, it is denying the genocide that continues today. This is why so many people called on Pallister to retract his hurtful remarks.
However, when pressed by Indigenous leaders and politicians to apologize, Pallister stood by his comments. Shortly thereafter, Pallister’s Minister of Indigenous and Northern Relations Minister Eileen Clarke resigned, explaining that “inappropriate words and actions can be very damaging” and that her voices and others around the Cabinet table were not being heard.
Niigaan Sinclair in the Winnipeg Free Press posits that Pallister’s unchecked racist views, comments, and actions against Indigenous peoples in Manitoba may well serve to be his undoing. Ironically, it may well be Pallister’s racism that helps him lose the next election to an Indigenous leader – NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
Pallister’s popularity continues to plummet in the polls, and according to the most recent Angus Reid poll, is now second only to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney as the least liked Premier in Canada. He seems oblivious to the fact that many Manitobans, and indeed Canadians, have less and less patience for racist and divisive leaders who are stuck in the dinosaur era. NDP Wab Kinew’s popularity, on the other hand, continues to rise in the polls, leading some commentators to predict he will be the next Premier of Manitoba.
Clearly without critically reflecting on where his Conservative government is headed, Pallister appointed Selkirk MLA Alan Lagimodiere, a former Animal Protection Officer and hotel businessman, as Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations to replace Clarke. To say this was a bad choice would be the understatement of the year and makes many wonder who is actually advising Pallister – or if he is simply winging it on his own, Trump-style? The debut of Lagimodiere, who was no doubt appointed to have Pallister’s back, was nothing short of an epic fail.
Less than 24 hours after being appointed as Minister, Lagimodiere fumbled not once, but twice. First, he claimed that residential schools were a good thing:
“At the time I think the intent…they thought they were doing the right thing. 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.“
All of this sounds eerily similar to Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole’s defence of residential schools as well-intentioned, or former Conservative Senator Lynn Beyak’s defence of residential schools as having many positives.
However, Lagimodiere did not get far into the same-old Conservative denialism before Kinew interrupted him and said he cannot stand there and let him defend residential schools. Kinew, who was an official witness of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, reminded Lagimodiere that these schools were intended to “kill the Indian in the child.”
Lagimodiere then made matters worse when he later released a statement that looked like he was trying to hide behind his Metis identity, and claimed he “misspoke”. While acknowledging that residential schools were “tragic,” there was no actual apology for what he said about the intentions of residential schools. At the same time, the Manitoba PC Caucus issued a statement on Twitter calling Kinew a “bully” who engaged in “political showmanship” when he interrupted Lagimodiere. While they later deleted the Tweet, there was no apology.
At this juncture, it is important to remember to look at this situation in its entirety. Pallister is standing by his racist and divisive comments; Lagimodiere never actually apologized for his comments about the intentions of residential schools; and the MB PC Caucus never apologized for their racist remarks about Kinew. Words matter and none of them have withdrawn their words or offered an apology and in fact, Pallister stands by his. Manitoba’s Conservatives have repeatedly sent the message that they have racist views about Indigenous peoples and their political path forward is one that will incite hatred, spread racism, engage in political confrontation, and continue to breach Indigenous rights. This is not the path towards reconciliation, nor does it inspire a vision of mutual respect and prosperity for Manitobans.
When people tell you who they are, it is important that we listen. It is even more important that we speak up – like Kinew did – even if the traditional political protocol is to sit quietly while people speak. It will be even more important at election time. We all have an active role to play in choosing the path forward out of racism and colonialism.