Manitoba’s freshly appointed minister for Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations, who previously proposed residential schools were founded with good intentions, has once again stated he believes the schools Indigenous children were forced to go to were part of a genocide.
During the 150th anniversary of Treaty 1 celebration on Tuesday, Alan Lagimodiere —who was sworn into the cabinet post last month, revealed that Prime Minister John A. Macdonald planned to obliterate Indigenous people from Canada.
On Tuesday, he said,
“It was genocide. There’s no way we can defend those actions. And those actions continued for years and years until the 1990s and they destroyed generations.”
He articulated that thought again on Wednesday, during a news conference launching a design competition for a statue of Chief Peguis set for the Manitoba legislative grounds.
The residential school system
“wasn’t just cultural genocide. They weren’t just attempting to erase the culture,” Lagimodiere reiterated on Wednesday. “Sir John A. [Macdonald] and planned to eliminate Indigenous people from Canada. And that, to me, is genocide.”
Administrations and Canadian citizens need to understand how extensively wrong some of the decisions made by past leaders were and the lasting effect of those decisions, Lagimodiere noted — not only for the Indigenous communities but also for all Canadians.
While the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report agreed the residential school system was cultural genocide, 2019’s documentation from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women used the term genocide.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged that distinction when he accepted the report and did so again earlier this year.
In June, Leah Gazan, Winnipeg Centre NDP MP presented a motion in the House of Commons looking for unanimous consent to call on the federal administration to acknowledge what happened at residential schools as a genocide. The motion failed.
It’s supposed Lagimodiere is the first member of Manitoba’s current cabinet to state publicly that the residential school system was part of a genocide.
On July 15, during his swearing into the cabinet, Lagimodiere annoyed Indigenous leaders when he stated the people who oversaw residential schools believed “they were doing the right thing.”
He made an apology the next day and has recently been paying visits to First Nations communities on what he titles a listening and learning journey.
Reactions to Lagimodiere
The head of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs revealed he is not convinced by the minister’s comments.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas noted it is difficult to tell if Lagimodiere’s purpose for using the word genocide is sincere or whether the minister is attempting to move past the backlash his original comments received.
“Fundamentally, these statements that he is making today are obviously a reaction and a realization of the ignorant and ill-informed comments that he made before,” Dumas disclosed. “I am glad that he is getting a proper historical education.”
Vivian Ketchum, a residential school survivor is happy that Lagimodiere is “waking up and learning something,” but is concerned that little change will occur with Premier Brian Pallister leading the Progressive Conservative government.
“There might be some members wanting to change, but Pallister is right up at the front there and that’s where everything’s going to stop at his level,” she stated. “If they want change, it’s not going to happen with Pallister in government.”