Manitoba

Pallister wants Ottawa to clarify rules governing Manitoba powwow planned for June

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister wants the federal government to clarify rules governing large gatherings in Indigenous communities after Lake Manitoba First Nation announced plans to proceed with a powwow in June.

'Now is not the time to begin to disrespect public health orders that have kept Manitobans safe,' premier says

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says he plans to raise the powwow issue with the prime minister later Thursday. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister wants the federal government to clarify rules governing large gatherings in Indigenous communities after Lake Manitoba First Nation announced plans to proceed with a powwow in June.

Pallister said Thursday he wants Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to clear up "mixed messages that have come from Ottawa" about large public gatherings. The premier said he intends to raise the powwow issue with Trudeau when the two leaders speak later Thursday.

"COVID doesn't know any boundaries. We have had great success in this province partnering and working with Indigenous communities and leaders to keep COVID out of our communities and now is not the time to begin to disrespect public health orders that have kept Manitobans safe — all Manitobans," Pallister told reporters during a conference call.

"We're not people who believe in two-tier health. All of us don't have an immunity to COVID or its impacts on us, our communities, or our friends. We need to act responsibly now."

Lake Manitoba First Nation, about 160 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, plans to hold a powwow on June 19-21 even if provincial public health orders continue to limit the size of public gatherings.

In Manitoba, those gatherings are currently restricted to 50 people outdoors.

Chief Cornell McLean told The Canadian Press the powwow has cultural significance for his community.

"It's important because we are trying to start that healing process for our members," he said.

"We will make sure that social distancing is being followed."

McLean also said anyone who is sick should not attend.

Most traditional gatherings have been cancelled or delayed this year over concerns about COVID-19 or due to restrictions on how many people can gather. 

Indigenous Services Canada said in a statement it recognizes the importance of cultural events and ceremonies.

"Any decision to cancel or postpone cultural practices remains the decision of spiritual leaders and community leadership alone," spokesperson Martine Stevens said in a statement.

Indigenous Services Canada has been "in daily contact" with Manitoba First Nation leaders to ensure they take steps to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission, she said.

"ISC respects the measures the chiefs and councils have put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 within their own communities, based on public health guidance."

Earlier this month, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said federal authorities would not stop powwows.

"Canada must not and will not prohibit these important practices," Miller said after RCMP were sent to a sun dance ceremony in Saskatchewan.

Arlen Dumas, Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said Pallister is entitled his opinion, but should leave Indigenous decisions up to Indigenous communities.

"It's not up to Ottawa what Lake Manitoba is going to be doing and it would make more sense that we're going to have a conversation with the proper leaders and the right people that are going to affect the decision," he said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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