The new minister of Indigenous reconciliation in Manitoba, Canada
, found himself in hot water
just minutes after being sworn in on Thursday for defending the country's so-called "residential schools
," where thousands of Indigenous children
were detained after being forcibly removed from their families
At a news conference
, Minister Alan Lagimodiere was responding to a question about schools when an opposition leader interrupted him.
“They thought they were doing the right thing,” Lagimodiere said of the people
in charge of the residential school system at the time
. “In retrospect, it’s easy to judge
[the past], but they really thought they were doing the right thing.”
Wab Kinew, the leader of the Manitoba New Democratic Party
, walked right up to the minister's rostrum and confronted him about his remarks.
“I cannot accept what you just said about residential schools,” Kinew, who was born in the Onigaming First Nation, said, adding that the express intent of residential schools was to “kill the Indian in the child.”
“It is not cultural relativism or revisionist history
to say that was wrong.”
Here is a conversation between @WabKinew and Dr. Alan Lagimodiere, the new Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations. pic.twitter.com/qV87piRT7E — elishadacey (@elishadacey) July 15, 2021
Between the 1880s and the 1990s, the Canadian government forced at least 150,000 Indigenous children to attend residential schools run by Christian churches, where they were not allowed to speak their native languages or wear braids and were forced to practice Christianity
and sexual abuse
was common, and an untold number of children died.
Hundreds of unmarked graves have been discovered at the sites of former residential schools in recent weeks, reigniting outrage at the decades-long practice described as "cultural genocide
" by Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Lagimodiere, a Métis member of the Progressive Conservative Party, said on Thursday that the residential school system was “designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moved forward.”
Kinew's condemnation of the minister's position was unequivocal.
“We’ll give you a chance,” he said of Lagimodiere’s new position, “but you can’t be out here defending residential schools if you want to work
with Indigenous communities.”
Following the press conference, Lagimodiere apologized on Twitter for his remarks, claiming he "misspoke."
“As an Indigenous Manitoban, I sincerely believe that residential schools were tragic, and that they were designed to assimilate Indigenous children and eradicate Indigenous culture; that was wrong then, and it is wrong now,” he said.
Please see my statement
below. — Dr. Alan Lagimodiere (@AlanLagimodiere) July 15, 2021
His party, on the other hand, was not so sorry.
Kinew was accused of bullying
Lagimodiere in a tweet that was later deleted by Manitoba's Progressive Conservative Caucus.
“We are all committed to meaningful progress on reconciliation,” the group wrote in a tweet, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, adding that “the political showmanship of storming into someone else’s press conference to bully a Minister who was sworn in only 10 minutes earlier does nothing to advance that reconciliation.”
Kinew has not changed his mind about confronting the minister.
“As an Honorary Witness
of the TRC,” he wrote on Twitter, referring to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, “I committed to Survivors to call out genocide denials when I hear them.”