Wab Kinew, wearing a feathered headdress that once belonged to his father, was sworn in as Canada’s first First Nations provincial premier and introduced a cabinet laden with more historical firsts on Wednesday in a colourful celebration of Indigenous culture, songs and languages.
Mr. Kinew greeted the audience in English, French and the languages of the seven Indigenous nations of Manitoba.
”Today a new era begins,” he said.
Voters, he said, endorsed his plan to fix health care and lower costs for families. Further, he said Manitobans embraced a message of unity and rejected division. ”I am so proud of the message that it sends to young people in Manitoba,” Mr. Kinew said, “that the people of this province have come together to declare that we are one people.”
Mr. Kinew, who led the New Democratic Party to victory in the province’s Oct. 3 election, named Uzoma Asagwara health minister and deputy premier, making the new cabinet member the first Black and non-binary person to hold the No. 2 spot in the provincial government. Mr. Kinew also appointed First Nations women to cabinet, another first for Manitoba.
Manitoba’s Premier did not emphasize his Anishinaabe background during the election campaign, but First Nations, Métis and Inuit culture dominated every element of his swearing-in ceremony, which stretched nearly 2½ hours at The Leaf at Assiniboine Park.
It started with the lighting of the Qulliq, an Inuit lamp that traditionally burns seal or beluga oil, although the one in Winnipeg on Wednesday was fuelled by vegetable oil. Mr. Kinew carried a blue ceremonial tobacco pipe and swayed his head to the beat while the Dakota Hotain Singers performed a Chief Song, written specifically for the new premier.
“We are one people. And we all have the right to be treated equally,” Mr. Kinew said. “I will be a leader for all of us in Manitoba. Today, I am wearing a headdress. Tomorrow, I will be chairing a cabinet meeting at the Manitoba Legislature.”
Kevin Chief, a former NDP cabinet minister, introduced the Norman Chief Memorial Dancers and offered advice to the incoming premier and his team. Being in government is hard, Mr. Chief cautioned, and the remedy is to do the Red River Jig to a tune called Whiskey Before Breakfast.
“You’ll walk into the legislature with a bit of skip in your step,” Mr. Chief said. He encouraged the assembled crowd at the swearing-in ceremony to hoot and holler for the Métis song and dance troupe.
The crowd grew louder and the dancers performed to Orange Blossom Special. Mr. Kinew kept time by tapping on his knee. Murray Sinclair – the first Indigenous judge in Manitoba, former senator and chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission – sat on the stage throughout the ceremony and raised both his arms into the air at the end of the dancing.
Mr. Sinclair has mentored many up-and-coming Indigenous leaders in the city, including Mr. Kinew and a couple of members of his new cabinet.
Mr. Kinew and the NDP unseated the Progressive Conservatives, who campaigned on a promise not to search a landfill near Winnipeg that police believe contains the remains of two missing Indigenous women – Morgan Harris, 39, and Marcedes Myran, 26, both originally from Long Plain First Nation.
Kyra Wilson, Long Plain’s chief, delivered the land acknowledgment at the swearing-in ceremony.
Mr. Kinew’s path from his childhood days on the Onigaming First Nation in Ontario to the Manitoba premier’s office will inspire generations, said Betsy Kennedy, the chief of War Lake First Nation.
“Thank you for answering the calls of our people, so that we may write a new chapter in the history of this country,” she said to Mr. Kinew.
Before he was sworn in, Mr. Kinew’s uncle, Fred Kelly, presented his nephew with the war bonnet once belonging to Mr. Kinew’s father, Tobasonakwut. Dozens of eagle feathers – each one representing an act of valour – encircled the new premier’s face. Mr. Kinew named himself the minister responsible for Indigenous reconciliation.
Mr. Kinew appointed Nahanni Fontaine as the minister for families, making her Manitoba’s first First Nations female cabinet minister. Minutes later, he named Bernadette Smith, who is First Nations and Métis, as the minister of housing, addictions and homelessness, and minister responsible for mental health.
Mr. Sinclair caught her eye as she was overcome with emotion. Signalling with his hands, he urged her to breathe, and to find strength in the eagle feather she carried.
The eagle feather bore the name of her sister, Claudette Osborne, who was murdered at a truck stop. Ms. Osborne is the reason Ms. Smith entered politics – and fought so hard for justice for Indigenous women for decades prior.
“Never in a million years could I have imagined being here,” she said after the ceremony.
Wab Kinew was sworn-in as Manitoba premier and named his lineup of cabinet ministers in a colourful ceremony filled with music and customs from the many Indigenous communities in the province. Kinew said his diverse cabinet, which includes all regions of the province, sends a message to young people.
The Canadian Press