Skip to main content
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Access every election story that matters
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister gestures during question period in the legislature in Winnipeg on April 7, 2021.

Kevin King/The Canadian Press

David A. Robertson is a Swampy Cree author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg.

In 1875, Icelanders were given land on the west shore of Lake Winnipeg, despite Indigenous people already living there. Through the resultant tension, John Ramsay, a Cree, saved dozens of settlers’ lives by teaching them how to ice-fish and hunt, and by providing meat during the winter months. He embodied the character of Indigenous people across Turtle Island: resilient, kind and forgiving.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, whose wife is Icelandic, acknowledged this recently, stating that the Icelanders wouldn’t have survived without the support of Indigenous people. He has a grasp of history, but this makes his words and actions over the past five years seem like intentional acts of division and racism. How does he admit the significant contributions of Indigenous people in one breath, and perpetuate the “lazy Indian” stereotype in another?

Story continues below advertisement

“We need to equip all our citizens with more skills, but they need to dedicate themselves ... to building those skills,” he said on July 7 in a speech about the Canada Day protest that saw thousands walk to the legislature to honour Indigenous children who died at residential schools.

Indigenous leaders say Manitoba government must change its ways or resign

I met Mr. Pallister years ago at the legislature. My father and I passed him in the hallway, and he greeted us cordially. Dad, an avid basketball fan, went on to explain that he knew Mr. Pallister from his days playing for the Brandon Bobcats in the mid to late seventies. At six feet, eight inches, Mr. Pallister’s nickname was Big Pal, and he had, by all accounts, a killer skyhook.

In 2019, the year he passed away, Dad told me that he believed reconciliation was a simple act. It’s seeing through stereotypes we’ve been indoctrinated with, and understanding one another from a place of truth. He said that you have to communicate, and, most of all, you have to listen.

On June 16, 2017, Mr. Pallister went on a 160 km bike ride that he dubbed a “journey of reconciliation,” from the former site of Peguis First Nation in East Selkirk to where the community stands today. Unsurprisingly, after the kickoff, he didn’t meet with any Indigenous people during, or after, his “reconciliation” ride. His press secretary explained that he’d be resting when he got to the community, but he summoned the energy to attend two events en route, including a fundraiser held by a Progressive Conservative MLA. And the ride itself retraced the steps of Peguis First Nation’s forced removal – more retraumatizing than reconciliatory.

Since then, his “work” in the area of reconciliation has gotten progressively worse. That’s tough for a guy who called Indigenous night-hunting rights, which are protected under the Constitution, unfair, and that they were inciting a “race war.”

In December, 2020, Mr. Pallister whined about the fact that First Nations were getting prioritized in receiving COVID-19 vaccines, calling it, all together now, “unfair” to Manitobans. I suppose Indigenous people don’t count as Manitobans?

This sort of race-baiting is nothing new, but lately Big Pal’s dipped his toes into revisionist history. During the same speech where he intimated that Indigenous people were lazy, in a time of mourning and pain for Indigenous people, he suggested that the colonization of Canada was done with good intentions, that settlers didn’t come here to destroy anything. His rhetoric, and refusal to apologize for it, led to the resignations of PC-appointed board members and most notably, Eileen Clarke, Minister for Indigenous and Northern Relations.

Story continues below advertisement

Alan Lagimodiere, Ms. Clarke’s replacement, within minutes of being sworn in as Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations, said those who ran residential schools believed “they were doing the right thing” and the system was “designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society.”

It was a deeply offensive statement that prompted Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew to calmly interrupt Mr. Lagimodiere and provide an impromptu history lesson that should not have been necessary to deliver to somebody with the word “reconciliation” in their job title. The PC caucus, in a quickly deleted tweet, admonished Mr. Kinew as a bully. Mr. Kinew, who is an honorary witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and an intergenerational survivor of the residential school system. It was very likely the final nail in the coffin for Mr. Pallister’s political career.

Mr. Pallister has done nothing to lead Manitobans on a path to reconciliation. He has not only broken a relationship between the provincial government and Indigenous people, he has shattered it, and there is a lot of work to be done in building back up what he has torn down.

The silver lining is that Big Pal, sooner than later, will tender his resignation. He’s spent a chunk of his tenure in Costa Rica. He’d do well to take one more “journey of reconciliation” that will do far more for this province than his last one. It’s about 6,000 kilometres long, and I hear it’s nice this time of year.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies