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Manitoba’s new Indigenous relations minister sparks backlash over residential school remarks

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew walked up to Lagimodiere and interrupted the news conference
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, Shoal Lake 40 First Nation Chief Erwin Redsky and Manitoba Indigenous Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke speak to reporters at Winnipeg city hall on Monday Dec. 12, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Lambert

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister faced open criticism from a respected former cabinet minister Thursday while her replacement quickly landed in hot water.

Eileen Clarke, who served as minister for Indigenous relations since the Progressive Conservatives were elected in 2016 before suddenly stepping down last Friday, said her concerns were ignored as a member of Pallister’s inner circle.

“I am hearing from many people across the province that they are disappointed with the representation they are getting at this time,” Clarke said in a prepared statement Thursday that did not mention Pallister by name. “I have spoken up on several issues but I feel my voice and other voices were not heard in cabinet.”

She declined interview requests and said she will retain her legislature seat.

A post on her Facebook page, however, went even further.

“Strong leadership is required to heal and bring our province and country together in harmony, it cannot be done by one individual. Inappropriate words and actions can be very damaging.”

Clarke stepped down two days after Pallister came under fire for saying people that came to Canada did so not to destroy anything, but to build communities, churches and businesses.

Indigenous leaders criticized the comments, saying they downplayed the effects of colonialism. They later praised Clarke as someone who listened to them.

Pallister defended his comments Thursday and said he had been misinterpreted. He said he did not mention colonialism in his original remarks or praise it in any way.

Pallister also said he would not say anything negative about Clarke, who he has known for decades, but rejected the idea that he doesn’t listen to people.

“I think that any suggestions or comments that she or anyone else has are heard on our team,” he said.

Pallister replaced Clarke Thursday in a small cabinet shuffle by promoting Alan Lagimodiere from the backbenches to the renamed portfolio of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations.

Minutes after he was sworn in, Lagimodiere, who is Métis, faced controversy when he told reporters the original intentions behind residential schools were not all bad.

“At the time … they thought they were doing the right thing. It’s easy to judge in the past.”

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew walked up to Lagimodiere and interrupted the news conference.

“It was the express intent of residential schools to kill the Indian in the child,” Kinew said.

Lagimodiere later took back his words.

“As an Indigenous Manitoban, I sincerely believe that residential schools were tragic and were designed to assimilate Indigenous children and eradicate Indigenous culture,” read a statement on Lagimodiere’s social media account.

“That was wrong then and it is wrong now.”

Pallister made some other minor adjustments to his cabinet.

He demoted Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen, who announced he is not seeking reelection in 2023.

Pallister promoted Jon Reyes from the backbenches to become minister of economic development. Former economic development minister Ralph Eichler moves to agriculture.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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About the Author: Ashley Wadhwani-Smith

I began my journalistic journey at Black Press Media as a community reporter in my hometown of Maple Ridge, B.C.
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