Is Premier Brian Pallister of Manitoba a racist, an entitled colonial brat – or both?

On Dec. 3, 2020 Indigenous Watchdog posted “Does systemic racism exist in Québec, Manitoba and New Brunswick? Don’t ask their premiers.” On the same day, Premier Brian Pallister of Manitoba said this and I quote:

“They are also telling us that they are going to hold back the portion of our vaccine for Manitoba that they would then allocate to Indigenous and First Nations communities,” Pallister said.”What that would mean then is Manitobans who do not live in northern Indigenous communities would be the least likely to get a vaccine in the country.”This puts Manitobans at the back of the line. This hurts Manitobans, to put it mildly,”

As Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada noted in a CBC Opinion published on Dec. 5, 2020, “He basically said, ‘If you don’t get vaccine right away, blame the Indians’. I didn’t hear him say, ‘If you don’t get vaccine right away, blame the old people in personal-care homes. Or Blame the front-line workers’.”

Imagine, from Premier Pallister’s warped perspective the Indigenous people who have lived in what is now Manitoba (from the Cree “Man-into-wahpaow” = “the narrows of the Great Spirit”) for thousands of years are not Manitobans. Louis Riel, the Métis leader who negotiated Manitoba’s entry into the confederation of Canada in 1870 and all the Métis descendents are also not “Manitobans”. Perhaps that’s why it was so easy for Pallister to make a conscious decision to exclude any reference to the Métis and First Nations contribution to the founding of Manitoba in his speech in honour of the 150th anniversary of Manitoba’s entry into confederation.

One of the reasons First Nations, Métis and Inuit are seen as a priority group for vaccinations is based on the reality emerging from the most recent H1N1 pandemic in 2009 where 27.8% of all hospital admissions during the first wave were Indigenous people who at the time represented only 4.3% of the over-all population. The Inuit were the hardest hit. And which First Nations were the hardest hit in the country? Manitoba! (Maclean’s. July 16, 2009).

What is the reality about COVID-19 and First Nations in Manitoba? The Dec. 18, 2020 update from the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba indicates:

First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba – December 18, 2020 Update
New casesActive CasesCurrent HospitalizationsICU PatientsTotal Deaths
On Reserve931,19242623
Off reserve51981621452
Total FN1442,1731042075
First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba – December 18, 2020 Update

The 5-day test positivity rate for First Nations on and off-reserve is 22% (excluding Métis who make up 7% of the population) vs 14% for the over-all Manitoba population. Is it any wonder that First Nations have been prioritized – especially in Manitoba?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a racist as “a person who is prejudiced against or antagonistic towards people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.

A racist is easy to define and identify: just listen to their words and watch how they act.

Brian Pallister, the Premier of Manitoba, through his words and actions since becoming Premier of Manitoba on May 3, 2016 has led the country in assaulting the human rights of Indigenous people, provoked racism and discrimination within the broader population through inflammatory language and fostered systemic racism within institutions. As the leader of the government – a conservative naturally – with a “bully” platform and holder of all the levers of power, Premier Pallister is accountable for his government’s policies and actions. Consider the following words and actions of Premier Pallister and his government. Full details can be found in the relevant sections of Indigenous Watchdog:

What Premier Pallister has said

  • He deliberately excluded Indigenous people from his definition of Manitobans and stated categorically that Indigenous people should not be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine (Dec. 3, 2020) – despite the evidence
  • “if a vaccine is made available on northern reserves before it’s available in southern Manitoba, we’re going to have a migration of folks…up to northern communities maybe taking COVID with them.” The reality is that the first vaccine available from Pfizer BioNTech can only be distributed in the south. No place in the north has the freezer storage facilities. The comments are inflammatory and divisive (Dec. 2, 2020)
  • In a speech honouring the 150th anniversary of Manitoba’s entry into confederation, Premier Pallister deliberately chose to ignore the contribution of Louis Riel and the Metis Nation to the founding of Manitoba and its entry into the newly formed confederation of Canada (May 13, 2020)
  • He stated that divisions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people over hunting at night are “becoming a race war.” (Jan. 20, 2017). The issue for everyone – Indigenous and non Indigenous alike – was primarily around safety

What has the Pallister government done through legislation and policy?

Child Welfare

  • Manitoba Human Rights Commission took the government to court alleging racial discrimination against a First Nations youth with significant disabilities where non-Indigenous youths with similar disabilities had no difficulties receiving care (Aug. 19, 2020). Manitoba’s action is in direct violation of Jordan’s Principle
  • Passing Bill 2, the “Budget Implementation and Tax Statutes Amendment Act”, to clawback the federal governments Child Special Allowance of $338M meant to be distributed to Indigenous children in care of which about 90% in Manitoba are Indigenous. The Bill also nullifies a class action lawsuit filed by First Nations to stop the clawback (Nov. 6, 2020)
  • One of the last provinces to eliminate Birth Alerts used to apprehend Indigenous children at birth. Manitoba’s child welfare system is known nationally as the worst jurisdiction in Canada for seizing and warehousing kids – 90% of whom are Indigenous (Mar. 31, 2020)
  • The government of Manitoba met with the Indigenous Leadership Council (Manitoba Metis Federation, Southern Chiefs’ Organization and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak) for first time on Feb. 22, 2019 in over two years despite a previous commitment to meet every quarter. (April 17, 2019)
  • Manitoba changed per-child funding to Block Funding to administer Child Welfare that had incentivized the apprehension of Indigenous babies. Government uses federal Child Special Allowance as part of their funding formula. Indigenous Leadership Council still sees block funding as continuing to incentivize child apprehensions (Feb. 14, 2019)
  • Refusal to implement an independent inquiry into the brutal murder of 16-year old Tina Fontaine as requested by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in March, 2018. Her death was one of the catalysts for establishing the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls


  • As of October 31, 2020, 26 First Nation communities across Canada have reported two or more active cases with 17 of them located in Manitoba (Nov. 2, 2020)
  • Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and four First Nations are demanding that the Province of Manitoba immediately declare the Manitoba Hydro Keeyask construction site as code red under the province’s pandemic response system due to an outbreak of COVID-19 at the construction site (Nov. 2, 2020)
  • Manitoba Métis Federation has filed a discrimination and systemic discrimination complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission against the Government of Manitoba and Manitoba’s lead health official throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (Sept. 13, 2020)
  • Manitoba Government refused to call a public inquiry into the preventable death of Brian Sinclair, an Indigenous man who was ignored by staff in the emergency department at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre for 34 hours (Sept. 15, 2017)
  • Refusal to send a provincial delegation to the first Métis Nation Health Forum in Ottawa where the Manitoba Métis Federation were presenting “Métis Health Status and Healthcare Utilization in Manitoba: A Population-Based Study” created to identify the key health issues facing Manitoba’s Métis Citizens (Feb. 26, 2018)


  • Overturning a Public Utilities Board order to Manitoba Hydro in 2018 to create an “On Reserve First Nations” customer class that froze the rates for First Nations living on reserve who are the most impoverished citizens in Manitoba. On Aug. 12, 2020 Manitoba Hydro moved First Nations on-reserve residential ratepayers to the Residential customer class, effectively implementing a rate increase of approximately 6.5% for First Nation citizens on reserve starting September 1, 2020 as the second wave of COVID-19 accelerates and many people have had a significant loss of income just as the winter season is about to start. First Nations people are among the most negatively impacted by COVID-19 (Sept 9, 2020)
    • UPDATE: On March 18. 2021 the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs v Manitoba Hydro-Electric Board (Case Number 39377). “Manitoba Hydro is a monopolized Crown corporation that has been unlawfully operating on and destroying First Nations lands and waters for decades. While these operations have been detrimental to First Nations, they have benefitted most other Manitobans. The AMC’s application to the Supreme Court raised issues related to the systemic and unique barriers that First Nations people on-reserve face when heating and powering their homes and the attempts to reconcile the often detrimental historical and ongoing use of First Nations territory for public utility infrastructure and development.” (Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs)
  • Refusal to call an independent inquiry into the police shooting and killing 16-year old Indigenous Eishia Hudson, one of three Indigenous people killed by police within 10 days (April 16, 2020)
  • Premier Pallister refused to meet with the Manitoba Hydro Board of Directors and executives to discuss Hydro finances and relationships with indigenous peoples, in particular the agreement signed by the previous NDP government, Hydro and the Manitoba Metis Federation. The entire board resigned except one conservative backbencher (Mar. 21, 2018)
  • Blaming the Manitoba Métis Federation for the mass resignation of all nine Manitoba Hydro Board of Directors who quit in protest of Premier Pallister’s refusal to meet with them over a two year period over a number of issues March 21, 2018)
  • Cancelling two separate contracts between Manitoba Hydro and the Manitoba Métis Federation that would have paid MMF $67M (March 21, 2018) and $20M (Oct. 21, 2018) for approvals of Hydro energy-related projects

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  • The Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) received a letter from the Pallister government cancelling the province’s support for self-government negotiations between Manitoba, Canada, and the MMF that had been ongoing since 1987 (April 17, 2019)
  • Refusing to invite the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) to comprehensive discussions to develop a provincial mineral development protocol to advance mineral development opportunities and projects on Indigenous territories (Mar. 5, 2018)
  • Premier Pallister’s fundamental solution to UNDRIP is twofold and is viewed through a colonial lens: A “well developed legal framework needs to be reaffirmed and reinforced”. i.e. one that excludes Indigenous legal traditions and practices; Free, Prior and Informed Consent “would enshrine in Canadian law renewed public signals that are already encouraging veto-based demands, as well as illegal blockade actions – in defiance of court orders.” (i.e. what we want we get, what you want, you don’t”)

His underlying premise is that UNDRIP will undermine the legal, investment and regulatory cohesion that provide the foundations to advance Canadian society – even if it’s on the backs and at the expense of Indigenous people. In other words, he is saying that Aboriginal rights and title don’t count. As he and the province continue to say, “This land is our land, not yours”.

Ongoing systemic Issues of racism and discrimination

  • Only 2 of 23 recommendations fully implemented from four Manitoba Child and Youth Advocate reports and only 43% have achieved positive compliance assessments (Nov. 13, 2020)
  • Stop Giving Me a Number and Start Giving Me a Person: How 22 Girls Illuminate the Cracks in the Manitoba Youth Mental Health and Addiction System”. The report examines the suicides of 22 girls aged 11-17 between 2013 – 2019, 20 of whom were either First Nations or Métis (May 7, 2020)
  • Release of Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth (2020): “Safe and Sound: A special report on the unexpected sleep-related deaths of 145 Manitoba infants“. Indigenous infants account for between 20-30% of live births in Manitoba during the study period (Jan. 2009 – Dec. 2018), but represent 57% of sleep-related infant deaths
  • Between 2002 and 2015-17 the inequities of health status and health-care access between First Nation people and all other Manitobans have gotten worse, according to many indicators (Sept. 17, 2019)
  • Virgo Final Report: “Improving Access and Coordination of Mental Health and Addiction Services: A Provincial Strategy for all Manitobans” emphasizes that for almost every service encountered, the largest percentage of people being served were of Indigenous background (Mar. 31, 2018)
  • Lac Seul Band has been fighting Canada, Manitoba and Ontario since 1929 over flooding of their ancestral lands and sacred burial grounds for the construction of the Manitoba Hydro Ear Falls Dam. (Oct. 28, 2020)
  • The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) will be intervening at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in a significant and potentially transformational hearing to argue that First Nation constitutional orders are distinct but equal to Euro-Canadian laws. 

Is Premier Pallister a racist? An entitled colonial brat? Or both? You be the judge.

Featured Content

Related posts

How does systemic racism undermine Indigenous health?

First, let’s start with the following facts: $8,400 vs $18,178. That’s the per capita gap between First Nations and other Canadians in federal, provincial and municipal spending for programs and services1 First Nations fall between 63rd and 78th vs Canada between 6th and 12th on the UN Human Development Index. The federal government’s Community Well-Being

Continue reading

Is the UN Declaration dead or more to the point – has it ever been alive?

“The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples” (UNDRIP) is an international instrument adopted by the United Nations on September 13, 2007, to enshrine the rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.” All four countries initially opposed (Canada, United States, Australia

Continue reading