Standing side by side before the cameras with Singh, they endorsed the Liberal candidate in their riding.
The awkward moment happened on Aug. 26, when the two First Nations leaders said their appearance at Singh’s press conference shouldn’t be read as a show of NDP support.
Rather, they’re throwing their weight behind the Liberal candidate in the Churchill–Keewatinook Aski riding, Shirley Robinson, because she is Indigenous, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Grand Chief Garrison Settee shared at the microphone.
NDP incumbent Niki Ashton is not Indigenous, and the chiefs said they’d like to see more Indigenous people involved in the political process.
“Our executive has recognized the candidate that is running for our riding and she’s Indigenous,” said Settee.
“We want Indigenous people to get involved in this process because as I said earlier, we have a vested interest in what happens in Canada when it comes to Indigenous people.”
Dumas stepped up to the microphone immediately afterwards to echo Settee’s remarks.
“We will always advance our First Nations candidates. On that level, being an elected official for the past two decades, I think that it’s time for a fresh start in the north,” Dumas said.
“I absolutely support Shirley Robinson in her candidacy.”
And as Singh looked on, Settee stepped in front of the cameras once again.
“I concur with that comment,” he said, following Dumas’s explicit endorsement of the Liberal candidate.
Robinson had asked for the chiefs’ endorsement earlier this month, citing the fact that she is an Indigenous person and the incumbent candidate, Ashton, is not.
“What we need is a strong voice from a native speaker inside the halls of influence,” Robinson told the MKO chiefs earlier this month, according to a report in the Thompson Citizen.
However, Singh and the NDP are committed to keeping Ashton in the House — even as they seek to elect Indigenous New Democrats elsewhere in the country.
“It should be really clear that I support my candidate Niki Ashton,” Singh said on Friday during a stop in Thunder Bay, Ont.
“She has been a strong voice for Indigenous people and has a proven record, and New Democrats in general have shown that we are backing up our words with action.”
–With files from Global News’ David Akin