Bicycle Rides and Reconciliation: An open letter to Premier Pallister

In an earlier post, Value Manitoba shared concerns about Premier Pallister’s plan to cycle to Peguis First Nation as a “gesture of reconciliation”. Manitobans have now been invited to join the Premier “in this mission of friendship by writing a letter to Manitoba’s Indigenous peoples, expressing your gratitude for the vital role they played in the formation of our province”.

Value Manitoba decided it most appropriate to address our letter to Premier Pallister.

Dear Premier Pallister:

Congratulations on the recent announcement of your bicycle trip to Peguis First Nation. Manitobans are forever indebted to the members of Pequis and all first peoples of this land that we occupy. Indeed we owe them thanks. But more important, we owe Indigenous people action toward change.

Chief Peguis may have befriended and signed a treaty with the Selkirk settlers, but he later became disillusioned when the treaty was dishonoured.

While it is a pleasant gesture to deliver thanks, these words ring hollow unless followed by concrete action. A significant course of action would be to announce, upon your arrival in Pequis First Nation, that your government will demonstrate Manitobans thanks by actively responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action —implementing those specific actions that fall under the provincial government’s mandate.

The TRC describes specific policy and program actions that the provincial government must take “to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” For example, it outlines specific actions for governments in the area of Child Welfare, Education, Languages and Culture, Health, and Justice.

We are concerned that not only has your government failed to make a concrete commitment to implement the TRC Calls to Action, you have demonstrated on a number of occasions that you have some personal “truth and reconciliation” work of your own to do. For example, in January you stirred up racial division in Virden Manitoba when you stated that divisions over indigenous hunting rights are “becoming a race war.” You declined to apologize for that comment. Soon after this you were quoted in Maclean’s magazine as having said “Young Indigenous men — a preponderance of them are offenders, with criminal records — are going off shooting guns in the middle of the night. It doesn’t make sense.” You have denied making that statement but Macleans magazine has publicly stated it stands by the article.

These comments inspired University of Manitoba Native Studies professor Niigaan Sinclair to offer you an opportunity to participate in a process of truth and reconciliation through education. In an interview with CBC, Professor Sinclair gave you the benefit of the doubt noting that “the comment demonstrates ignorance about Indigenous issues resulting from a “flawed education” on the subject.”

He noted: “While Indigenous kids in residential schools were taught that they were savage and they were heathens and they were violent, Canadians were taught the exact same thing and they were taught to feel superior, and that they had a sort of duty to control Indigenous people in every way,” he said. “The words of the Premier are really in the vein of that history.”

Dr. Sinclair graciously invited you to attend his class. To our knowledge, you have yet to respond.

As the Premier of Manitoba, it is incumbent upon you to show leadership by acknowledging the truth about our colonial history and by entering into a process of reconciliation. Thank you is not enough. You must acknowledge the deeply damaging policies that non indigenous governments of all political stripes have imposed on Indigenous people and demonstrate that your government aims to make amends by advocating for the 94 calls to action and implementing those that are within its power.