Manitoba’s beleaguered premier sent out a statement Tuesday afternoon to apologize “for the misunderstanding I caused” over remarks he made about Indigenous history in July.
Premier Brian Pallister told media Tuesday that he hopes people will be able to forgive remarks he made in which he said people who came to colonize Canada didn’t mean to destroy Indigenous communities.
“I feel awful about the reaction and the misunderstanding I created with my comments,” he said.
“I worked for a long, long time on reconciliation efforts before we set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was proud to be part of the government that did that.
“So I’m going to issue a statement later today and ask for forgiveness and understanding and ask that we unite. That was what I was trying to do with my comments.”
The full statement, sent to media Tuesday afternoon:
Our government believes in the importance of advancing reconciliation, as do I. The events of the past two months should inspire us to make real progress on reconciliation. That progress can only be made by working collaboratively and in partnership with Indigenous leaders and communities as we chart a path forward, together.
We have a collective responsibility to acknowledge our country’s hard truths, to listen and learn, and create common understanding as a basis to move forward together.
The tragedy of residential schools is an enduring trauma for all involved. It is a tragic and shameful part of Canada’s history from which we must all learn and reflect.
I too have been reflecting.
I wish my words in speaking to Manitobans at this difficult time had been said differently so they could have been understood better. My words did not adequately convey all that I meant, which I sincerely regret.
At no time have I ever justified the existence of residential schools in Canada and the lasting harm they inflicted on Indigenous persons. This is not who I am and has never been part of my long record of advocating for progress for Indigenous peoples and the specific steps my government has taken, of which I am very proud.
My message was about building up together, on the principles of reconciliation.
My message was about our shared heritage and how we all have a stake in building Manitoba’s future. We would not be a province without the foundational contributions that First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples have made and continue to make to Manitoba. We would not have the diversity we cherish without the Indigenous peoples and immigrants who came before us. And we cannot be the province or country we want to be without reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples and mutual respect for all those who chose to make Manitoba home.
I hoped to bring us together by referring respectfully to all – not some, as has been misstated – of our ancestors. My words were misunderstood and caused hurt. I am sorry for that.
Pallister’s previous comments ignited a firestorm of controversy, which only grew worse as the weeks went on.
“The people who came here to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came here to build. They came to build better,” Pallister said at a July 7 news conference.
“We need to respect our heritage just as we need to respect one another … Not to find fault, not to tear down, not to highlight every failure, but rather to realize that we’re a complex country as we are made up of complex people,” he added.
A week later on July 15, he doubled down on those comments after former minister of Indigenous and northern relations Eileen Clarke stepped down from her post because of “inappropriate words and actions,” but did not point a finger directly at the premier.
That day, he named MLA Alan Lagimodiere the new Indigenous reconciliation minister, who was then confronted by Leader of the Opposition Wab Kinew, for saying that he believed children were sent to residential schools to learn new skills.
Lagmodiere immediately apologized for his comments, and Pallister said Tuesday the new minister has reached out to those he offended.
“He’s offered sincere efforts to work together, to redeem himself in the minds of some and to prove himself in the minds of others. And I know he’ll achieve good things in that portfolio.”