Manitoba families minister 'deeply troubled' by recent comments, reflecting on her role in reconciliation

Manitoba's families minister is speaking out about recent comments made by Premier Brian Pallister and Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere, saying she is deeply troubled by the remarks. 

Rochelle Squires says she cares deeply about reconciliation

Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires says she is taking time to reflect and come to a better understanding of her responsibilities toward reconciliation. (Radio-Canada)

Manitoba's families minister says she's deeply troubled by recent events and is committed to reconciliation after her government's new Indigenous reconciliation minister came under fire for comments about residential schools.

Rochelle Squires said that as a Canadian and a provincial cabinet minister — and also someone whose grandson is Indigenous — she cares deeply about reconciliation.

"I want nothing more than for my grandson and all Indigenous people to live in a country brave enough to accept the awful truth of what happened, and to commit to doing better," she said in a statement to CBC News.

"Therefore I am deeply troubled by recent events and comments. I am taking time to reflect, to listen to the dialogue, and come to better understand my own responsibilities towards reconciliation." 

Minutes after he was sworn in as the province's new minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations Thursday, Alan Lagimodiere said those who ran residential schools believed "they were doing the right thing."

Lagimodiere retreated from those comments in a statement Thursday afternoon, before issuing a full apology late in the day on Friday.

Premier Brian Pallister has also been under fire over the last week for suggesting the colonization of Canada was done with good intentions. Lagimodiere's predecessor, Agassiz MLA Eileen Clarke, resigned from cabinet after Pallister's comments. 

The premier stood firm in his comments Thursday, saying suggestions that he was defending colonialism were not accurate. 

"I spoke about people who came here with hope to build families and communities. I spoke with sincerity. I spoke genuinely," he said.

"I did not reference colonialism, I did not reference Europeans in any way, shape or form. I was talking about our First Peoples, I was talking about our Métis. I was talking about the people who came after them."

Asked how he could still defend those remarks when Indigenous cultures were destroyed by European settlers, Pallister said: "Read my comments. Indigenous people were the first Canadians; they were newcomers at that point in time.

"They forged a life by building. They worked diligently to do that for millennia."

WATCH | Gordon responds to Lagimodiere's comments:

Manitoba cabinet minister responds to comments by new Indigenous Reconciliation Minister

2 years ago
Duration 1:33
Featured VideoManitoba Mental Health and Wellness Minister Audrey Gordon said Friday NDP Leader Wab Kinew spoke from his heart when he called out comments by new Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere, and that she stands behind Lagimodiere as well. Lagimodiere said Thursday the architects of residential schools believed they were doing the right thing, before saying later he misspoke.

At a news conference Friday morning, Mental Health Minister Audrey Gordon said she supports the premier and Lagimodiere, saying the latter's comments about residential schools were "not what he intended to convey." 

She said she also respects NDP Leader Wab Kinew, who immediately and publicly confronted Lagimodiere about his remarks. 

"I feel that individuals should always be given the opportunity to speak what's in their heart, and I feel that he did that," she said.

Following that confrontation, another member of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative caucus, McPhillips MLA Shannon Martin, tweeted that there should be no confusion about the legacy of residential schools. 

Martin declined an interview request, saying his tweet stands as his public comment.

Fellow PC MLA Sarah Guillemard tweeted her own condemnation of the residential school system Friday night, saying she "will never stand behind words that add hurt to traumatized people."

Misrepresentation of history: prof 

Sean Carleton, an assistant professor in the department of history and Indigenous studies at the University of Manitoba, said Lagimodiere's comments were a "total misrepresentation" of the history of residential schools, adding that there were many people who voiced concerns about the system as early as the turn of the 20th century. 

Carleton said he also did not think the premier's comments from last week were misinterpreted at all. 

"What the premier fundamentally doesn't understand is the definition of settler colonialism is people coming and trying to destroy Indigenous ways of life to build a new province and a new country on top of already existing nations. That is the very definition of colonialism," said Carleton, whose research focuses on colonialism and the history of residential schools in Canada. 

Carleton said there are various theories about human migration, but referring to Indigenous people as "newcomers" perpetuates dangerous rhetoric that has been used in the past to try to discredit Indigenous claims to land and other rights.

"It's sort of like what the premier is dabbling in is an idea that, if Indigenous people came here thousands and thousands of years ago, then we should be able to just come over here and steal and give and take resources," he said. 

Carleton said he thinks the premier should just admit his comments were a mistake rather than doubling down on them. 

"Every time the premier tries to clarify what he means, he's digging a deeper hole of denialism that is really making things worse," he said.

With files from Sean Kavanagh