Winnipeg Free Press

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The Manitoba chief who levelled accusations of racism against Manitoba’s government policies issued a challenge to the premier and anyone else to come and live on a reserve if they think she’s wrong.

“If people have a visceral reaction to the term ‘racism’, they should spend a day, a week, a month to live in one of our communities and live in the shoes, in the houses of our people,” Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said Thursday.

“I would be happy to arrange some of these experiences so they can understand why people feel hopeless and why they feel this is the most racist province in Canada,” North Wilson said.

Manitoba’s northern grand chief told people at the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations health summit in Saskatoon earlier this week that Manitoba has “the most racist provincial government in Canada,” a remark later cited in a media report.

Racism is an everyday occurrence; in fact, flying to the conference, North Wilson said she and her assistant were called “wagon burners.”

The slur came from a man she later confronted on video, asking him, “Why did you call us ‘wagon burners’?”

The unidentified man apologized, saying he was from Texas working in Alberta. “I hear it all the time in Alberta. I apologize,” he said.

North Wilson said she has nothing to apologize for with her remarks about racism in Manitoba.

She believes if people saw and lived in the conditions indigenous people endure daily, in urban areas or on reserves, they’d agree with her.

“I would take the premier for a month, for a week say to Shamattawa or my community, Oxford House. My parents still have a house there. There are problems with mould there. I don’t know how he would feel, compared to his house in Costa Rica, to a reserve house. That would be a good juxtaposition. See how he and other people feel about having to live in these conditions. It’s just not fair,” North Wilson said.

She said the challenge was the result of a wider discussion about indigenous people assuming responsibility for health-care services, because of the lack of health services on and off reserves, which are considered treaty rights but are often disregarded.

She said her remarks weren’t levelled at any one particular government in this province, but at the bureaucratic machinery that forms policies regarding services for indigenous people.

They’ve carved a flawed track record of provincial policy in general toward indigenous people and the poverty and despair is a result of them, she said.

“I’m talking about Manitoba as a province. We have a lot of work to do for that road to reconciliation. People still have a hard time accepting the truth of what the realities are… I’ve heard it, a long time ago, from elders and leaders 20-30 years ago. They always said the government treats us like children and they make decisions for us.

“We’re at a day and age where we have many capable indigenous people to take care of our own,” she said. “I truly believe people care, the vigils show that and they’re growing, but we need policies… that include indigenous people. Nothing about us without us. It’s a simple concept and it’s overdue.

“It seems like we’re stuck in an historical rut in Manitoba.”

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca