By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Manitoba’s auditor general says this province is not doing nearly enough to fulfill commitments they made for advancing reconciliation, and he blames that lack of progress on the government’s lack of “focus and vision” when it comes to building relationships with Indigenous people.
In 2016, the former NDP government passed the Path to Reconciliation Act with unanimous support in the legislature, and the act laid out commitments to advancing reconciliation with Indigenous people and communities.
Just six years after the bill was passed, Manitoba’s auditor general Tyson Shtykalo released the results of a report that looked to determine if the government has been fulfilling its commitments under the act, and he states very clearly that it has not.
In the report, Shtykalo writes that the province is failing at reconciliation because of a lack of an overall strategy, and an inability to use a “whole of government approach” to try and fulfill its commitments.
“We found the government has not developed a strategy for reconciliation. Without a strategy, efforts towards reconciliation are hampered, ultimately lacking focus and vision,” Shtykalo writes in the report, released earlier this week.
“Reconciliation is about the relationship between all Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, it requires action in all sectors of society. This would require a whole-of-government approach. Despite this, we found the government’s reconciliation efforts were lacking cross-government coordination, and there was no strategy to give direction to departments.”
Former Premier Brian Pallister had an often-contentious relationship with Indigenous groups and leaders before stepping down last fall, and the report does note that MLA Eileen Clarke stepped down as minister of Indigenous and northern relations last summer, after the former premier made controversial comments seemingly defending the intentions of colonialism.
When current Premier Heather Stefanson was sworn in last November, she said one of her top priorities would be to repair the province’s relationship with Indigenous people and communities.
The auditor general has now made five recommendations based on the results of the report, which include asking that all public servants receive mandatory training on the history of Indigenous people and the department responsible for reconciliation “promptly guide the development of a strategy for reconciliation.”
“To be most effective, these recommendations need to be acted upon immediately,” Shtykalo wrote.
“With a significant number of Indigenous peoples in the province, the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples affects all Manitobans and all sectors of society.”
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the province and to Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Alan Lagimodiere for a response to the findings of the report.
In an email, Lagimodiere said the province plans to review the recommendations and says they have taken steps and will continue to take steps to advance reconciliation in Manitoba.
“In the coming days and weeks, we will examine the auditor general’s report in further depth, and I look forward to continuing our work with First Nations, Metis and Inuit leadership and communities across the province,” Lagimodiere said.
“The recommendations offer an opportunity to renew our focus on working with Indigenous leadership, communities, residential school survivors, elders and knowledge keepers and all Manitobans, as we seek to advance truth and reconciliation in our province.
“We are committed to advancing a provincial reconciliation strategy built on meaningful engagement with all Manitobans, and informed by Indigenous peoples.”
Lagimodiere also noted that steps have been taken recently that he said will work towards advancing reconciliation in Manitoba.
“I am pleased to confirm that the Public Service Commission will be implementing mandatory training for the Public Service, and we have also recently announced funding to Indigenous Language Services in our province,” he said.
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Turtle Island NEws does not receive LJI funding.