New Manitoba Indigenous minister says residential school system believed 'they were doing the right thing'

·5 min read
A now-deleted tweet from the Manitoba PC Caucus on the exchange between Alan Lagimodiere and Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew.  (Manitoba PC Caucus/Twitter  - image credit)
A now-deleted tweet from the Manitoba PC Caucus on the exchange between Alan Lagimodiere and Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew. (Manitoba PC Caucus/Twitter - image credit)

Just minutes after he was sworn in, Manitoba's new minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations was directly challenged in the legislative 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.

"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," he said.

"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."

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.

WATCH | Pallister defends controversial comments:

"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."

"They didn't allow them to practise any of their cultural beliefs when they were in the Indigenous schools, which its important that we recognize that that happened and do what we can to bring that culture back and to teach that in our schools today."

Lagimodiere has since said he misspoke.

"I sincerely believe residential schools were tragic and were designed to assimilate Indigenous children and eradicate Indigenous culture, he said on Twitter.

"That was wrong then, and it is wrong now."

The Manitoba PC Caucus, meanwhile, in a tweet that was later deleted, accused Kinew of "political showmanship" and of bullying Lagimodiere.

During his own news conference, Kinew said he could not stand by and listen to Lagimodiere say what he did.

He said as an honorary witness in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he had a duty to correct the record.

Manitoba PC Caucus/Twitter
Manitoba PC Caucus/Twitter

"This is not just a political issue, this is about our society, this is about where we live," Kinew said.

Arlen Dumas, who was re-elected as grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs this week, said he was alarmed and disappointed by Lagimodiere's comments.

"There's an opportunity here to speak to these things in a truthful and meaningful way," he said.

"And to have someone just use revisionist history and develop this lens that's completely uninformed and uneducated and make these bland statements is very problematic."

Gary Solilak/CBC
Gary Solilak/CBC

Dumas said he's willing to work with the new minister, if he's willing to listen and learn. However, he said he's been frustrated dealing with the Pallister government.

"They already know what they're going to do before they even talk to us. They need to accept that they need our guidance," he said.

He also said he felt his relationship with the premier has deteriorated beyond the point of repair.

"I don't think there's a relationship anymore. I've made every effort, I've tried my best to provide tangible solutions," he 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.

WATCH | Full news conference:

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."