Manitoba’s new premier and cabinet know there’s a lot resting on their shoulders.
“It is about the people of Manitoba,” Premier Wab Kinew told cabinet ministers and media Thursday.
“They have invested a lot of confidence in us; they have set very high expectations for us, and rightfully so. The people of this province deserve the best, and that should be our guiding star around this table.”
In his first speech as premier, Kinew vowed to work more closely with Indigenous leadership in the province.
“There is a structural change we are bringing into government today,” Kinew said at the swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
“Our government will recognize you for what you are: leaders of governments.”
It’s recognition that Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick says is long overdue.
“The expectation is, and has always been, that First Nations leadership, and Canada through its governments, that we work together,” she said.
Merrick would like First Nations leaders to meet with cabinet “on a quarterly basis at least,” and be included in the decision-making process.
“Commit to involving First Nations leadership in the preliminary conversations, and not only after decisions have been made,” she said.
Premier Kinew also appointed himself as the Minister Responsible for Indigenous Reconciliation, a move he said is intended to improve communications between Indigenous governments and the province.
“It’s exciting to hear that, and I look forward to that opportunity and look forward to that relationship,” Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee said.
The Manitoba NDP campaigned heavily on repairing the province’s health-care system. Settee said for northern and remote communities, including Indigenous leadership is key to that goal’s success, and that improving health outcomes is part of reconciliation.
“The staffing in our health care system in the north is critical,” he said, adding he’d like to see more training opportunities so people don’t have to leave their communities to get basic care.
At today’s cabinet meeting, Kinew indicated cabinet would establish the Healthy Child Committee, headed by Health Minister Uzoma Asagwara. Kinew said the committee will focus on providing supports for young people, ensuring more of them “reach their 18th birthday.”
Another marker Indigenous leaders are watching for is the socio-economic health of their communities.
“I’m looking at the poverty of our people,” said Grand Chief Merrick. “We live in poverty. That has to change.”
Merrick says while in her eyes the previous provincial government “received a failing grade” in working with Indigenous peoples, she’s looking forward to having a seat at the table.
“We would like to be in meetings with the cabinet on a quarterly basis, at least, so that the resolutions passed at our assemblies are brought forward and actioned in a timely manner,” she said.
“It’s very important that we’re able to create that relationship.”