Manitoba

Indigenous leaders express hope for renewed relationship after Manitoba throne speech

Beginning with a Cree honour song and making numerous references to reconciliation, Heather Stefanson’s first throne speech as Manitoba premier sought to establish a new relationship with Indigenous people.

Cree honour song preceded Premier Heather Stefanson's 1st throne speech

Opaskwayak Cree Nation Coun. Mike Bignell performed an honour song before Premier Heather Stefanson's first throne speech on Tuesday. It was the first time a Manitoba throne speech has started with traditional First Nations singing. (CBC)

Beginning with a Cree honour song and making numerous references to reconciliation, Heather Stefanson's first throne speech as Manitoba premier sought to establish a new relationship with Indigenous people.

Garrison Settee, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, said he believes there's sincerity behind that effort.

"I think that she remains committed to ... not only listening to us, but allowing us to be part of some of the things that we are discussing," he said.

"She's asking for input, she's asking for feedback from us, and that's never happened before."

The opening song before Tuesday's speech from the throne, sung in the Manitoba Legislature by Opaskwayak Cree Nation Coun. Mike Bignell, marked the first time a Manitoba throne speech began with traditional singing and drumming. 

Bignell sang the song, which he wrote in honour of his late great-uncle, for the first time in  public. It was an emotional experience, he said in an interview with Faith Fundal, host of CBC Manitoba's afternoon radio show, Up to Speed.

"Today it felt like it was a big purpose to bring that song out and to show the people that … we're still here," he said.

WATCH | Drumming and singing for reconciliation before start of Manitoba throne speech:

Drumming and singing for reconciliation before start of Manitoba throne speech

5 days ago
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Opaskwayak Cree Nation Coun. Mike Bignell performs in honour of his grandfather before the start of Tuesday's throne speech in the Manitoba Legislature. 1:12

The song signified that the government wants to move in a new direction, Settee said.

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, in consultation with the premier's office, came up with the idea of opening the proceedings with a First Nations song.

"I think that the fact that we opened up the proceedings today with some traditional singing is very significant," Dumas said, speaking to reporters after the speech. 

"However, while I appreciate that the premier and the government is saying that they're willing to listen, I also want them to hear what we have to say."

Rebuilding relationship

In the speech, delivered in the legislature by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon, Stefanson said her government is committed to working with Indigenous people to advance shared goals and promote truth and reconciliation.

"We must rebuild this relationship on a foundation of meaningful dialogue and engagement with First Nations, Métis and Inuit leaders to co-develop action plans," said the speech, which lays out the government's priorities for the coming year.

Stefanson promised in her speech to listen to and learn from Indigenous leaders, elders and families to help heal the damage caused by residential schools and colonization.

The speech referenced the reports of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which she said would guide future actions.

"We must transform intentions into actions to advance the important work of reconciliation, sort out evolving jurisdictional responsibilities and create real economic opportunities for Indigenous peoples."

A renewed partnership would be essential to improving infrastructure in Indigenous communities on- and off-reserve, Stefanson said in the speech.

As with much of the throne speech by the first female premier of Manitoba, Stefanson sought to distinguish herself from her predecessor, Brian Pallister, who had a frequently strained relationship with First Nations leaders.

Former Indigenous relations minister Eileen Clarke resigned from cabinet earlier this year after comments Pallister made, suggesting the colonization of Canada was done with good intentions.

Manitoba Métis Federation president David Chartrand said he welcomes the move toward further reconciliation and wants to see concrete action toward that goal.

"There are many steps needed on this path before we can talk about having healed the broken relationship between the province and the national government of the Red River Métis, but this speech shines a brighter light on our path than we've seen for a long time," Chartrand said.

With files from Holly Caruk, Bartley Kives, Jim Agapito and Cameron MacLean

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