Manitoba government lacks strategy for reconciliation efforts: auditor general

Manitoba’s auditor general says the provincial government has not lived up to its commitments to advancing reconciliation.

Report says province hasn't fulfilled commitments laid out in legislation

Thousands of people marched from The Forks through the downtown area for the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Manitoba last fall. A new report from Manitoba's auditor general says the province needs a strategy for its reconciliation efforts. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Manitoba's auditor general says the provincial government has not lived up to its commitments to advance reconciliation with Indigenous people.

In a report released Thursday, Tyson Shtykalo said the province has not developed a strategy for reconciliation efforts, despite being required to do so under the Path to Reconciliation Act, which was passed in the Manitoba Legislature in 2016

"Without a strategy, efforts towards reconciliation are hampered, ultimately lacking focus and vision," Shtykalo wrote. 

An audit of five departments within the provincial government found that only one minister — the minister for Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations — had any significant mention of advancing reconciliation in recent mandate letters, the report said. 

Those mandate letters include objectives for what the ministers are expected to accomplish.

Though provincial staff told the audit team they are encouraged to consider the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission when developing and implementing policies and programs, there appeared to be no co-ordination between departments, the auditor's report says.

It also notes that some actions have been taken in the spirit of reconciliation, such as implementing the use of the eagle feather in Manitoba courtrooms.

But Niigaan Sinclair, a University of Manitoba professor of Native Studies, says those actions aren't enough. 

"There are some very small ornamental changes that have been done ... but there really is no mandate and there really is no directive from the government, no leadership in the areas of reconciliation," he said.

"Ultimately, that's not what the Path to Reconciliation Act is intended to do. It's looking for a substantive change, different in the ways in which the government does business, and most importantly, including indigenous peoples at the decision making table," he said. 

Five recommendations

Shtykalo made five recommendations he says should be acted on immediately, including developing a strategy for reconciliation and mandatory training for all provincial staff on the history of Indigenous people, treaties, Indigenous rights and Indigenous law.

He also recommended engaging with Indigenous representatives on the four principles outlined in the Path to Reconciliation Act (respect, engagement, understanding and action), and drawing on that engagement to develop a course for all public servants on those principles.

His last recommendation was that the province ensure annual reports are translated, as required under the Path to Reconciliation Act.

If the government really wants to show it cares about reconciliation, its leadership needs to spend more time listening to Indigenous people, said Grace Schedler, the Indigenous Ambassador for the non-profit Circles for Reconciliation.

The organization is focused on establishing trusting, meaningful relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples by facilitating small gatherings where people can get to know each other. They have received funding from the provincial government.

Government needs to listen: Schedler

"I don't think they're listening to the Indigenous leaders when the Indigenous leaders want to meet and talk about it, because I know how these meetings run. They are very fast because the ministers are busy," she said.

"They have their their time schedules, the chiefs have their time schedules. So when they are meeting, they're not really discussing everything. They're just kind of touching the surface of it."

Circles for Reconciliation founder Raymond Currie said it was discouraging to read in the report that Indigenous leaders didn't feel the government was as engaged in reconciliation as they should have been. 

"In a sense, it's a very disappointing report card for the province."

 He added he's encouraged the current Indigenous reconciliation minister Alan Lagimodiere acknowledged in a meeting with him that the government has more work to do on the file.

Premier Heather Stefanson said Thursday afternoon she hadn't had a chance to read the report yet, but that reconciliation is a priority for her and that a strategy will be driven by the advice of the Indigenous community. 

"We always want to seek better way of doing things," she said.

With files from Ian Froese