Manitoba Chiefs join growing calls for Bennett's resignation after Trudeau defends her
Trudeau said he's 'deeply disappointed' in Bennett but is keeping her in cabinet because he knows 'her heart'
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has joined a growing list of Indigenous groups and politicians calling for the resignation of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett.
Bennett has been under fire this week after former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould revealed a private message that she received from Bennett that she characterized as racist.
Bennett swiftly apologized for the message, in which she appeared to imply that Wilson-Raybould criticized the prime minister because she fears losing access to an MP pension.
"I think she should find other things to do," Grand Chief Arlen Dumas told CBC's Power & Politics.
"Those comments are very inflammatory. At the moment, we're discovering unmarked mass graves all throughout the country. That's what our minister should be focused on."
WATCH: Grand Chief Arlen Dumas explains why he thinks Carolyn Bennett should resign
The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs has also called on Bennett to resign, telling the minister it is "deeply disturbed and disgusted by the extreme callousness, spite, and ignorance you have shown through the racist message."
The calls for Bennett's resignation come a day after a First Nation in Saskatchewan reported that it had discovered hundreds of unmarked graves at a former residential school.
The prime minister has apologized and condemned Canada's past treatment of Indigenous peoples — while also defending Bennett.
Charlie Angus, NDP critic for Indigenous youth, continued to call for Bennett's firing on Friday.
"On a day when Canadians were grappling with the discovery of hundreds of more bodies in unmarked graves, the minister took a cheap, derogatory stab at an Indigenous leader grieving for these lost lives," Angus said in a statement.
Trudeau backs Bennett, says there's 'more work for her to do'
Trudeau spoke publicly for the first time today since Cowessess First Nation reported a preliminary finding Thursday of 751 unmarked graves at a cemetery near the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
"This was an incredibly harmful government policy that was Canada's reality for many, many decades and Canadians today are horrified and ashamed of how our country behaved, about a policy that ripped kids from their homes, from their communities, from their culture and their language and forced assimilation upon them," Trudeau said outside his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.
The report from Saskatchewan comes after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation announced last month that preliminary findings from a survey of the grounds at a former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C. revealed the remains of 215 children buried at the site.
WATCH: 'We are sorry,' Trudeau says following report of 751 unmarked graves in Saskatchewan:
Trudeau also said Bennett would remain at her post despite calls for her resignation because there is "more work for her to do" on the Indigenous file.
Yesterday, Bennett apologized publicly to Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada's first Indigenous justice minister, after suggesting in a private message to the MP that her concern over residential schools and Indigenous rights was really a ploy to secure a generous MP pension.
In a social media post, Wilson-Raybould attacked Trudeau yesterday over what she called his "selfish jockeying for an election" and demanded he set those ambitions aside and commit to his 2018 promise to deliver transformative Indigenous rights legislation.
Bennett responded to Wilson-Raybould in a private message that consisted of a single word: "Pension?" Wilson-Raybould was one of 142 MPs elected for the first time on October 19, 2015, which means she would fail to qualify for her MP pension if she's defeated in an election before October 19, 2021.
- Bennett issues public apology after Jody Wilson-Raybould accuses her of sending 'racist' private message
"What minister Bennett did was wrong," Trudeau said. "It was hurtful. And of course I am deeply disappointed," Trudeau said, adding that Bennett "did the right thing by apologizing because it was the wrong thing to do."
"I spoke with Carolyn Bennett this morning. I know how hard she has worked and continues to work on this important file. I know her heart. I know the efforts she has put in over years on this. And we both understand there is now even more work for her to do. And I know we will do it together."
WATCH: 'I am deeply disappointed' — Trudeau reacts to angry exchange between Carolyn Bennett and Jody Wilson-Raybould:
Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.
A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419. A Saskatchewan-based line is now available by calling 306-522-7494.