Tory leader only one to skip Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs invitation

Candidates for premier were invited to make their pitch to First Nations leaders at a meeting of chiefs held last week in Manitoba, but while the NDP and Liberal leaders both accepted that invite, another leader was noticeably absent.

Last week, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) held their Chiefs in Assembly Annual General Meeting (AGM) on the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation, which brought together leaders from the 62 communities represented by AMC for three days of meetings.

And with a provincial election now just months away, NDP leader Wab Kinew, Liberal leader Dougald Lamont, and PC leader and current Premier Heather Stefanson were all invited to speak to the chiefs last Friday.

“We have this provincial election coming up, and we have many important matters that are impacting our communities and our First Nation population,” Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said while speaking at the AGM last Friday about the reasons for inviting the party leaders.

But Wilson and other leaders also expressed disappointment, because they say while both Kinew and Lamont showed up and engaged with First Nations leaders through both public statements and a question period, Stefanson did not show up and did not send any representation from the governing PC party.

“One of the biggest things for me is also just recognizing there is no representative here from the PC party, so let’s just make that known,” Wilson said.

Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Gordon Bluesky, the leader of the community where the meetings were held, also expressed disappointment with the premier for not accepting an invite to come to his community north of Winnipeg last week.

“I too am also making note that an invitation was discarded by our PC leader here in Manitoba, and from my perspective that’s a sign of disrespect to my community as well,” Bluesky said.

In a statement posted to their Facebook page, AMC said they believed it was vital for all three leaders to be present at last week’s meetings.

“The AMC recognizes the incredible power of the First Nations vote in provincial and federal elections,” the statement reads. “We have over 164,000 First Nations citizens in this province, a demographic capable of swaying any election. “To give all parties an equal opportunity to present their platform to all Chiefs-in-Assembly, we invited all premier of Manitoba candidates to our Annual General Assembly. We welcome Wab Kinew of the NDP Party and Dougald Lamont of the Liberal Party as they respectfully engage with our First Nations Leaders on the issues First Nations Leadership is concerned about in Manitoba.

“The Conservative Party declined our invitation.”

The premier’s office didn't return the Winnipeg Sun’s request for comment.

While speaking at last week’s meeting, Lamont told those in attendance that reconciliation and working with First Nations would be one of the mandates and pillars of a Liberal government if he were elected.

“When you look at the discrimination that Indigenous people face, it’s the worst in the provincially-run systems,” Lamont said.

“When it comes to policy and platform we have an entire section of the Manitoba Liberal platform dedicated specifically to truth and reconciliation, but the entire platform is written through the lens of reconciliation.”

Kinew made a number of promises while speaking at the meeting including promises that a NDP government would invest money and resources to create more employment opportunities for First Nations people both on and off reserve.

“We need more jobs across Manitoba and we need more jobs in First Nations communities,” Kinew said. “It’s not just about a paycheque, but having a good job also provides dignity, self-respect, discipline and self-worth.

“There are so many issues that we want to tackle around poverty and homelessness and addictions and family life, and a huge part of those conversations has to be being able to deliver good jobs.”

Voters in Manitoba will go to the polls to elect the next provincial government on Oct. 3.

— 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