Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs 'insulted' over exclusion from Stefanson's swearing in ceremony

Heather Stefanson is sworn in as Manitoba's 24th premier at the Manitoba Legislative Building in Winnipeg on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Lipnowski

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) said it is insulted and offended that First Nations leadership was not invited to Premier Heather Stefanson’s swearing in ceremony.

Stefanson was sworn into office on Tuesday, becoming Manitoba’s first female premier.

In a statement issued, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said the organization appreciates the invocation by Elder Billie Schibler and the important symbolism of the seven teachings provided.

However, Dumas said, the lack of First Nations leadership at the swearing in ceremony “was an affront to repairing the broken relationship and contradictory to the Premier’s stated priority for reconciliation with First Nations.”

Dumas added that Stefanson had the opportunity to start her time as premier on the right foot by inviting First Nations leaders to the ceremony, but the lack of calls, invitations and acknowledgments was another misstep in building a relationship between First Nations communities and the government.

Dumas noted that Stefanson said she wants to continue to maintain a positive relationship with Indigenous people, and listen to them on how the province can help them heal.

“In having to watch this ceremony and media availability through an online link, I couldn’t help but wonder: what positive relationship?” Dumas said in the statement.

“Stefanson met with my office during her campaign, however, did not seem prepared to address a number of our priority and outstanding issues including but not limited to First Nations’ gaming and the imposition of provincial laws on matters of exclusive First Nation jurisdiction.”

The grand chief said the lack of acknowledgements and invites to the swearing-in ceremony is another example of the province ignoring First Nations, and moving ahead without any Indigenous representation in the room.

“Either way, this is a very unfortunate first step for Stefanson. I cannot express how very disappointed I am and I will urge this new Premier to reflect on her comments made to First Nations leadership in various meetings and in media leading up to her election; comments that included promises of a different approach that would lead to positive change for First Nations. We need to be in the room for that to happen,” Dumas said.

A spokesperson for the premier said no one was intentionally left out, noting that in order to comply with public health restrictions Stefanson was only joined by a small group of family, friends and colleagues at the ceremony.