PCs defend record on Indigenous issues after being called racist by grand chief

PCs defend record on Indigenous issues after being called racist by grand chief

Manitoba's Health Minister is defending his government after a prominent Indigenous leader, Sheila North Wilson, called it the "most racist provincial government in Canada."

"Our government has demonstrated now and in the future a great respect our Aboriginal, Indigenous people and continue to work with them in a collaborative way," said Kelvin Goertzen Wednesday in reaction to the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief's comment.

Goertzen said he met with North Wilson recently and said he had a positive discussion with her.

"My meeting with the grand chief was both productive and respectful. I look forward to further meetings," Goertzen said.

North Wilson called the province the most racist in Canada at a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations health summit in Saskatoon Tuesday.

The comment was prompted in part, she said, by Premier Brian Pallister's comments about Indigenous people having greater rates of chronic diseases and mental health issues.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau March 1, Pallister wrote high rates of kidney disease are "borne disproportionately by Manitoba's Indigenous people" and that the federal government is obligated to help close health outcome disparities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

North Wilson said her organization, which represents Cree, Oji-Cree and Dene First Nations spanning nearly two-thirds of the province, was not consulted before he wrote the letter.

The grand chief later said she was still "hopeful" and that it is perhaps too early to pass judgement on Manitoba's Progressive Conservatives.

Goertzen said he looks forward to further consultations with Indigenous communities in Manitoba's north and Pallister has a proven track record advocating for Indigenous peoples.

"I know that our cabinet ministers in our government have reached out, have travelled across the north, met with Indigenous leaders," he said.

"Our golden boy faces north for a reason, it's because we believe the future of Manitoba, in many ways, is driven by the north."

The Manitoba PCs will not agree on every issue with Indigenous communities but that's true of every group the province consults with, Goertzen said.