WINNIPEG/TREATY 1 – Manitoba has become the first Canadian province to swear in a First Nations Premier, who will also hold the title of minister of Indigenous reconciliation.
Wab Kinew’s New Democratic Party won 34 of the province’s 57 electoral seats on Oct. 3, defeating the Progressive Conservatives who had campaigned on a promise not to search a local landfill for the remains of three murdered Indigenous women.
Speaking at Kinew’s swearing-in ceremony this week, former senator Murray Sinclair described his election as a “true act of reconciliation.”
Breaking with tradition, the swearing-in ceremony was held at The Leaf conservatory rather than the Manitoba Legislative Building. Proceedings began with the lighting of a qulliq, a traditional oil lamp associated with Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, and included the Dakota Hotain Singers and a Métis dance group.
Championed Truth & Reconciliation
Fred Kelly, a residential school survivor and Kinew’s uncle, presented the premier-elect with a war bonnet belonging to his late father before Manitoba Lt.-Gov. Anita Neville administered the oath of office. Originally from Onigaming First Nation in Ontario, Kinew campaigned on a promise to improve health care and govern for all Manitobans, but has long championed truth and reconciliation.
“Greatness arises when we all work together,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs grand chief Cathy Merrick. “I am confident that under Premier Kinew’s leadership, what has happened here in Manitoba will inspire generations to come.”
Uzoma Asagwara, MLA for Union Station, was sworn in as deputy premier, making them the first Black and non-binary person to hold the position. “All Manitobans deserve to see themselves represented in politics,” they told CBC following the ceremony.
Kinew’s 15-member cabinet includes eight people of colour, five of whom are Indigenous.
Bernadette Smith, minister responsible for housing, homelessness and addictions, is Anishinaabe and Métis. Nahanni Fontaine, who is Anishinaabe, takes on the families, accessibility, and gender equity portfolio.
Bushie named minister of municipal and northern relations
Ian Bushie, former chief of Hollow Water First Nation, is now minister of municipal and northern relations, as well as Indigenous economic development. Advanced education and training minister Renée Cable is Métis.
I have every confidence in the team of skilled and passionate individuals who have answered the call to serve in cabinet,” Kinew said.
“I look forward to the varied perspectives they will bring to the cabinet table, representing the diversity of our province as a whole.”
Kinew has promised to bring in legislation giving Louis Riel the honorary title of Manitoba’s first premier. Riel founded the province, formed a provisional government that protected the rights of minorities and Indigenous people, and led two resistance movements against the Government of Canada before being executed for treason in 1885.
Rosa Walker, president and CEO of the Indigenous Leadership Development Institute, said she’s “very optimistic” following Kinew’s election. It will inspire Indigenous youth to pursue leadership roles and engage in the political process, she said.
Not a panacea
It may also result in the needs and concerns of Indigenous communities being better addressed at the provincial level, said Walker. But it’s not a panacea.
“It’s important to note that while the election of an Indigenous premier is a significant milestone, there may still be challenges and divisions within the province,” she said. “Not all Manitobans share the same perspectives or priorities, and there may be varying expectations about what the new premier can achieve.”
In his first speech as premier, Kinew also spoke directly to trans-youth, committing to protect their rights at a time of growing anti-trans movements in Canada and the United States. “You have many voices around our government table, and you have an entire team of allies in government,” he said. Kinew’s caucus also includes Logan Oxenham, Manitoba’s first openly trangender MLA.
RELATED: Indigenous non-profits left “hurt” after being “blindsided” by Manitoba funding announcement
RELATED: Kinew promotes existing official to serve as Manitoba’s top civil servant