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Indigenous leaders willing to give new premier a chance at repairing relationship

Some Indigenous leaders say they are feeling optimistic about Manitoba’s incoming premier after having a challenging relationship with her predecessor. 

Heather Stefanson will be the province’s next premier after Progressive Conservative party members chose her as their next leader on Saturday. Her opponent Shelly Glover has vowed she’ll challenge the win in court, but the PCs appear to be standing behind Stefanson’s win.

Stefanson replaces Brian Pallister, whose resignation in August came after he was condemned for his statements about the good intentions of Canada’s early settlers, which were widely criticized for downplaying the effects of colonialism and prompted the resignation of his own Indigenous relations minister. 

Stefanson has said one of her top priorities is repairing the province’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. 

Grand Chief Garrison Settee of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak says he knows Stefanson well from her time as health minister, and hopes she will make a positive impact. 

Though Stefanson was part of Pallister’s cabinet and one of his supporters, Settee says he thinks she is her own person and wants to give her a chance. 

“We can’t live in the past, we have a new day ahead of us and the opportunity for amazing things is there and we’re willing to embark on such a journey,” he said. 

David Chartrand, president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, says unlike her predecessor, Stefanson is welcome at the table with the Métis. 

The MMF has taken the province to court over various issues in the last decade. Most recently, they filed a lawsuit over what it calls unconstitutional restrictions on moose harvesting.

Chartrand said he felt Pallister treated the MMF like an enemy, which led to an acrimonious relationship. 

He said he hopes Stefanson will ensure Métis are no longer penalized for exercising their rights, so that they can stop fighting the province in court. 

“We’ll get out of the courts and get back to the tables,” he said. 

“I think she’s going to bring that characteristic in. I think she’s made a promise, that’s what you’re going to see coming from her.”

Challenging road ahead

Still, Brandon University political science professor Kelly Saunders says Stefanson has a tough road ahead of her if she wants to undo the damage done by her predecessor. 

“She has significant challenges in front of her. No question about it.”

Saunders says it’s a good sign that Indigenous leaders are willing to give her a chance, but Stefanson will have to put action behind her promises. 

“She’s going to have to move very quickly to show that she is a different leader and that she is leading a different caucus and that she is truly going to do things differently,” she said. 

“She has to show that she’s prepared to take action and really put in some important decisions and concrete steps to move forward.”


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