Manitoba First Nations hopeful Stefanson will continue improved relations

·3 min read

Organizations representing First Nations across the province are hoping for a reset when it comes to their relationship with the provincial government, now that they know who the next premier of Manitoba will be.

On Saturday Heather Stefanson squeaked out a victory in the Manitoba PC leadership race, beating out fellow candidate Shelly Glover by just a few hundred votes, and becoming the first female premier in this province’s history. The vote is now being challenged by Shelly Glover’s camp and a swearing-in ceremony for Stefanson is scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday.

On Saturday just hours after Stefanson was voted in, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee released a statement stating what MKO, which represents citizens of 26 Manitoba First Nations, would like to see moving forward from the new premier.

Settee made it clear in his statement that he and others do not want to see a return of their relationship with the province under Brian Pallister, who stepped down as premier in September, and who throughout his time in office had an often strained and confrontational relationship with Indigenous organizations and leaders.

“In the past year, we have witnessed anti-Indigenous racism coming out of the premier’s office,” Settee said. “Understandably, First Nations leaders had a challenging relationship with the Premier of Manitoba.

“In this leadership role, you have the opportunity to make a positive impact, and to build reciprocal relationships with First Nations in Manitoba.”

Settee did admit that the relationship improved recently under the leadership of interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen, who took over the role temporarily from Pallister back in September, and will now step down to make way for Stefanson.

“It was hopeful to see some improvements in the last two months under the leadership of interim Premier Kelvin Goertzen,” Settee said. “We thank Mr. Goertzen for taking action during his short term in office.

“I’m hopeful his actions will inspire the incoming premier to continue to listen and to engage with First Nations leaders on a regular basis.”

The Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO) which represents 34 southern First Nations in Manitoba, also weighed in on the election of Stefanson, as on Monday the organization released a statement asking that the new premier work to forge a better relationship with Indigenous people than the ones that were built under Pallister.

“SCO is also hopeful that this change in leadership marks a significant shift in the relationship between First Nations and our provincial Treaty partner,” SCO said in their press release.

“We look forward to a complete turning of the page in our history with this provincial administration, as we embark on a new relationship that incorporates meaningful collaboration, consultation, and respect, as we work together toward true reconciliation.”

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said in a Monday statement that the AMC, which represents 62 of the 63 First Nations in Manitoba, is also hopeful that Stefanson can now “turn the page” when it comes to relationships between Indigenous people and the province.

“The past working relationship with the former provincial government had its challenges for First Nations,” Dumas said. “First Nations, however, were encouraged by the words of the Premier-designate in her victory speech where she immediately acknowledged First Nations leadership, reconciliation and rebuilding the broken relationship with First Nations,” Dumas said.

“AMC member First Nations are prepared to turn the page on the past difficulties and begin a new chapter with the incoming Premier. We can collaboratively do this by giving meaning to her commitment to reconciliation, by re-setting a respectful relationship, and by working together to give full expression for the duty to consult First Nations in this province.

“First Nations’ rights must always be at the forefront of any government decision, and the AMC will always have this position as the starting point for discussions with any incoming or newly-elected provincial government.”

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun

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