He thought he was saying the right thing - Denny Scott editorial
Manitoba’s new Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere may have set a new land speed record when it came to demonstrating how not to do his new job, lasting only minutes before he just had to sample the fine leather he was undoubtedly wearing when he put his foot in his mouth.
When addressing reporters after being installed, Lagimodiere, who is Métis, said he thought the people had the best of intentions with the residential school system (you know, the system that may have resulted in thousands of children buried in unmarked graves that we’re now discovering as a nation).
“They thought they were doing the right thing,” he said after being named to the position that will see him deal intimately
with the fallout from the system. “In retrospect, it’s easy to judge the past. But at the time, they really thought they were doing the right thing.
“From my knowledge of it, the residential school system was designed to take Indigenous children and give them the skills and abilities they would need to fit into society as it moved forward,” he said.
Opposition leader Wab Kinew of the NDP, also a First Nations individual, couldn’t accept Lagimodiere’s comments, however, and immediately called him out for the remarks, interrupting the new minister’s press conference.
The entire situation speaks to a particular brand of political tone-deafness that starts at the top with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. Pallister made comments earlier this month, in response to people tearing down colonial-linked statues like Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislature, about how people came to this country, both before and after it was formed, to “build better” lives.
While he claims his comments have been misunderstood, a number of people and news organizations have said his message was that colonization was done with the best intentions.
As a result of Pallister’s comments (though she didn’t clarify which specific comments), Lagimodiere’s predecessor Eileen Clarke, resigned.
So, to recap the tale so far, Pallister made some remarks possibly defending colonialism. If those comments were misinterpreted, he certainly hasn’t done anything, save doubling down on them. Most people assume that, as a result, Clarke resigned (she said voices, including her own, weren’t being heard in the cabinet). Lagimodiere was named to replace her and, within minutes of being named, he started to defend the intent of those responsible for the residential school system.
Whether their statements are wrong is inconsequential. The point is that it wasn’t the time or the place to make them. This is where the political tone deafness comes in: now is not the time to be exploring the benefits or colonialism, or the best laid plans of those behind it and the residential school system.
I think all of us (especially us privileged white folks) need to take a page from actor Matt Damon’s book for the next little while.
While Damon never fell on the side of Harvey Weinstein and his ilk during the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements, he did make a mistake or three in his own opinion. He claimed there were grades of misconduct and that everyone shouldn’t be painted with the same brush. Whether you think he’s right or not, he should have known (and eventually realized) he wasn’t in a position to talk about the problem.
“I really wish I listened a lot more before I weighed in on this,” he said. He then explained that a lot of the women who spoke out about sexual misconduct in entertainment are his friends and he did them a disservice by not listening. “I love them and respect them and support what they’re doing and want to be a part of that change and want to go along for the ride, but I should get in the back seat and close my mouth for a while,” he said.
I think that’s a great attitude to have about these issues. Whether it’s the residential school system, renaming Dundas Street (or places closer to home), the Me Too movement or any other situation where prejudice is a problem, all of us not in the group being mistreated need to sit in the back seat with our mouths closed so those most impacted by these situations can tell us what needs to be said and done. And that advice goes doubly so for those in positions of power.