As Manitobans vote, Onigaming watches

Opinion polls in Manitoba strongly suggest a former Onigaming resident is about to become the keystone province’s next premier, and that cheers the hearts of people in the First Nation community near Nestor Falls.

Wab Kinew, who was born in Kenora and spent his early years living on the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation, is leader of the Manitoba NDP. Recent polls indicate the party likely will win a majority in Manitoba’s general election on Tuesday.

“Oh my God, we’d be so proud and so supportive of him, even though we’re in Ontario and he’s in Manitoba,” Onigaming resident Sherry Copenace said when asked about the prospect of a Premier Kinew.

“We’re all rooting for him.”

Like Kinew, Chief Jeffrey Copenace grew up mostly off-reserve, so he doesn’t remember seeing young Wab in Onigaming. But they did get to know each other later in life.

“I didn't know him until probably my 30s, but I did know his dad, and I did know his dad’s brother (who were both Inigaming chiefs).

“And when I finally got the chance to meet Wab, you know, both of us were kind of at the same point of our lives, kind of rising up upwards with political ambitions. And it’s amazing to see what he’s accomplished.”

Chief Copenace said Kinew has visited Onigaming many times in recent years, including a visit to attend Copenace’s inauguration as chief.

“And every time I see him in the last couple of years, I’ve been calling him Manitoba’s next premier. And if things go well on Tuesday, he may very well be Manitoba’s next premier,” he said.

Wabanakwut Kinew was born on December 31, 1981, in Kenora, the son of educator Tobasonakwut Kinew and policy analyst Kathi Avery Kinew. The family lived in Onigaming for a few years before moving to Winnipeg. Wab Kinew became leader of the Manitoba NDP in 2017 and has represented a Winnipeg riding in the province’s legislature since 2016.

An NDP victory on Tuesday would make Kinew the first First Nations premier of any province, though Manitoba did have a Metis premier from 1878 to 1887.

Chief Copenace said Kinew’s success will hopefully “demonstrate to our young people — because we are in a state of emergency — that there is hope, and I think that’s what Wab demonstrates the most.”

Kinew, he said, is “a sort of role model, living a good life and walking the Red road.”

Mike Stimpson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source