By Dave Baxter,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Just one week before Winnipeg voters go to the polls, a mayoral candidate is attacking an organization that represents more than 60 Manitoba First Nations, and accusing First Nations leaders of trying to “guilt Canadians into abandoning their love of Canada.”
In June, The Forks announced it made the decision to abandon the long-running tradition of hosting Canada Day events on July 1, and would instead host A New Day, an event officials with The Forks said would reflect on reconciliation in Manitoba, and on the long and painful history of colonization, and institutions in Canada, such as the residential school system, that caused harm to generations of Indigenous people and communities.
On Oct. 5, Winnipeg mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk attacked The Forks for the decision in a statement, stating publicly her wish that The Forks go back to hosting Canada Day celebrations, and she said that if elected Winnipeg’s mayor, she would appoint board members at The Forks who would bring back Canada Day events.
Those comments prompted criticism from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) on the same day her comments were released and the AMC also asked for “new traditions” created for Manitobans and Canadians to celebrate on July 1.
“The Canada that Jenny Motkaluk is celebrating was built off the suffering of First Nations and should have never existed in the first place,” AMC Deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean said in the Oct. 5 press release. “It is time to move forward in reconciliation and create new traditions to honour what this nation was meant to be. Canada is home for all of us, First Nations peoples and settlers alike.
“As a nation, we need to come together and agree that celebrating colonization and genocide is no longer part of the agenda.”
On Monday, just days before the Oct. 26 municipal election, Motkaluk went on the attack against AMC in an open letter.
“I state without fear that I am not a ‘settler, I am not a ‘colonizer,’ and I am not a guest in this country. I am a Canadian,” she wrote.
“I reject the cancellation of Canada Day, especially at The Forks, and I reject a false and divisive narrative that seeks to guilt Canadians into abandoning their love of Canada.”
The AMC did not respond to a request for comment from the Winnipeg Sun.
A statement released on Tuesday by the Southern Chiefs Organization (SCO), which represents several southern Manitoba First Nations, SCO defended AMC, and accused Motkaluk of not understanding the “complex” history of Indigenous people in Canada.
“SCO stands with the AMC Grand Chief Cornell McLean and their disappointment in Winnipeg mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk,” SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said.
“We encourage Motkaluk, as a settler on our territory, to educate herself on the true history of First Nation peoples in Winnipeg, Canada, and across Turtle Island, to understand the tragic effects of colonialism and genocide still felt by communities, families, and Survivors today.
“Her lack of understanding about the complex relationship between First Nations and Canada is deeply concerning.”
-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.