WINNIPEG — It was a tense start for Manitoba’s new Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister, who was called out publicly by the province’s opposition leader over comments he made about residential schools.
PC MLA Alan Lagimodiere entered Premier Brian Pallister’s cabinet Thursday morning, being sworn in as the new Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister.
The province said Lagimodiere, who is Métis, has been mandated to develop an agenda for reconciliation in consultation with First Nations, Métis and Inuit leadership.
“From my knowledge of it, the residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the kind of skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moves forward,” Lagimodiere said during his first public appearance minutes after being sworn in as minister.
The comment sparked immediate backlash from the province’s opposition leader.
“I cannot accept you saying what you just said about residential schools,” Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew told Lagimodiere.
“It was the express intent of residential schools to kill the Indian in the child—it is not cultural relativism, it is not revisionist history for us to say that that was wrong.”
Kinew went on to tell Lagimodiere that if he is going to take his appointment as the Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations minister seriously, he has to change his opinion.
“You can’t be out here defending residential schools if you want to work with Indigenous communities.”
Lagimodiere took on the new role after former Indigenous and northern affairs minister Eileen Clarke resigned from the role. The resignation came a week after Pallister made comments regarding colonial settlers.
In a statement posted on his Twitter account, Lagimodiere said he misspoke regarding residential schools.
“As an Indigenous Manitoban, I sincerely believe that residential schools were tragic and were designed to assimilate Indigenous children and eradicate Indigenous culture. That was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”
This is a developing story. More to come.