Current Problems

Government Commitments to Truth and Reconciliation

Indigenous voters say reconciliation in Manitoba takes more than landfill search promises

September 30, 2023

Process involves return of languages, resources and ‘bringing us to the table,’ says former youth chief

A crowd of marchers are pictured from behind. A man is shown in the middle holding a bundle of burning sage.
A Winnipeg march on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in 2022 is shown. An April 2022 report by Manitoba’s auditor general said the province had not developed a strategy for reconciliation efforts, despite 2016 legislation requiring it to do so. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

CBC Indigenous: Indigenous voters in Manitoba say discussions about the proposed search of a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of two First Nations homicide victims have dominated this year’s provincial election season for good reason, but achieving reconciliation goes further than that.

“There’s tons of other issues that pertain to us — with education, employment and community support,” said Justin Langan, a Métis activist and fourth-year political science student at the University of Manitoba.

During their provincial election campaigns, the GreensLiberals and New Democrats released platforms that contain a variety of promises directed at Indigenous people in Manitoba.

So far, Manitoba’s Keystone Party and Progressive Conservatives have not announced any specific promises focused on Indigenous people.

An April 2022 report by Manitoba’s auditor general said the province had not developed a strategy for reconciliation efforts, despite 2016 legislation requiring it to do so.

If elected, the Green Party of Manitoba says it would implement the 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) 94 calls to action.

The NDP’s promises include the introduction of a special MMIWG adviser, a government database to track victims, as well as implementation of the 231 calls for justice in Manitoba.

One of the provincial Liberals’ key reconciliation promises is to return more than $300 million in federal benefits ruled to have been improperly withheld by the province from Indigenous children who were under the care of Manitoba’s Child and Family Services between 2006 and 2019.

A man in his twenties, with short brown hair, brown eyes, and a short beard, smiles to the camera.
Justin Langan, a Métis activist and fourth-year political science student at the University of Manitoba, says Indigenous people in the province will hold whoever is elected as premier to their promises, ‘because they can’t just play this game of promise this and pledge that. These are our lives.’ (Submitted by Justin Langan)

The Greens, Liberals and New Democrats have each pledged varying support for a three-year and up to $184-million search of the Prairie Green landfill north of Winnipeg for the remains of Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, who police presume are victims of an alleged serial killer.

The Keystones are the only party of the group yet to announce its position on a search. PC Leader Heather Stefanson has remained steadfast in her decision not to fund the search of Prairie Green while in office, citing health and safety risks.

As the election season draws to a close, Stefanson and her party have increasingly promoted their opposition to a search of Prairie Green through billboard and newspaper ads — a political strategy widely criticized as insensitive, hurtful and divisive.

Gary Anandasangaree, the federal minister for Crown-Indigenous relations, told CBC News the politicization of the issue is “troubling” and traumatic for families of Harris and Myran.

“I will leave it to the people of Manitoba to decide how they want to move forward,” he said Friday, adding that the federal Liberal government’s decision on whether to support the search “will be coming out imminently.”

In August, Kinew said a search of Prairie Green would take place “as soon as possible” if the NDP took office on Oct. 3.

Langan says he would limit his expectations of the NDP leader if he succeeds in his bid to govern Manitoba. While a First Nations premier would have historic significance, it “does not mean that Indigenous issues will entirely be solved by electing that individual,” he said.

“If [Kinew] were to promise these things and not fulfil them at least partially, the damage is going to be much more than if a non-Indigenous person has promised them, and that’s something I’m worried about.”

Reconciliation ‘takes showing up’

On Thursday, Kinew said an NDP government would advance reconciliation in Manitoba through economic growth for underserved communities as well as support for Indigenous-led business projects like Naawi-Oodena and the overhaul of downtown Winnipeg’s former Hudson Bay building.

Langan said Kinew would face pressure from all sides if elected as premier, especially Indigenous communities. “We’re going to hold anyone who gets elected through their promises, because they can’t just play this game of promise this and pledge that. These are our lives,” he said.

Langan added that economic development is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to reconciliation in Manitoba and requires “an active relationship … not just the passing of certain policies. It takes showing up and being there as a government.”

A man in a suit and tie stands on a balcony, overlooking the Manitoba Legislative Building in the background.
At a Thursday press conference, Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said if elected, he would focus on economic development and Indigenous-led business partnerships to advance reconciliation in the province. (Ian Froese/CBC)

On the other hand, if Stefanson is re-elected as premier, Langan says “it’s going be more than difficult — if not near impossible — to sort of rebuild the little trust that Indigenous people and communities have had” with the PC leader.

However, lawyer Stacey Soldier, a member of Swan Lake First Nation who is set to become the first Anishinaabe president of the Manitoba Bar Association in 2025, says it’s unfair to paint Stefanson’s landfill search decisions as racially motivated.

“But I do think that she is getting some very bad advice on reconciliation,” she said, adding that Stefanson should have spent more time with Eileen Clarke, the PC government’s former minister of Indigenous reconciliation and northern relations, who Soldier said engaged with Indigenous leaders and communities.

Soldier says there’s “a lot of weight” on Kinew’s shoulders during the provincial race, as he’s carrying the hopes and dreams of many Indigenous people, especially Indigenous youth.

“I think the pressure would be on him more than any of the other leaders for actual action, and the patience would run very thin if there wasn’t implementation of [some] the calls to action, at least for the TRC and certainly MMIWG.”

A woman with mid-length, brown hair and black-rimmed glasses is pictured smiling to the camera.
Stacey Soldier, a lawyer set to become the first Anishinaabe president of the Manitoba Bar Association in 2025, says it’s time for governments ‘to sit and listen’ if they want to reach meaningful reconciliation.(Submitted by Stacey Soldier)

Regardless of which party Manitobans select to form the government next Tuesday, Soldier says “if they are really, truly wanting to work toward reconciliation, [then] it’s time to sit and listen.”

Reconciliation also encompasses more than social issues, said former Southern Chiefs’ Organization youth chief Sienna Gould, who wants to see more government commitments for Indigenous farmers and fishers like her family.

Gould is from northern Manitoba’s Pinaymootang First Nation but now lives in Winnipeg. Hydroelectric dams have negatively impacted her community’s lakes, rivers and fish, forcing her and many others to relocate due to flooding, and they continue to struggle while adjusting to life in the city, she said.

‘I want to see action’

Reconciliation involves returning languages and resources to Indigenous people, as well as “bringing us to the table, and making sure that we’re not being left out, because here we are — we gave so much away — and now there’s little for us,” said Gould.

Gould says Kinew’s bid for Manitoba’s top job is inspiring for younger generations of Indigenous people like her and her son. If Stefanson is re-elected as premier, Gould says she would need to visit communities like Pinaymootang for “more than just a picture.”

“If they were on the land, and if they were on the waters, they would see where they would need to start,” she said. “I want to see action…. We’ve heard words for so long.”


Ozten Shebahkeget, Reporter

Özten Shebahkeget is a member of Northwest Angle 33 First Nation who joined CBC Manitoba in 2021 through the inaugural Pathways program. She is Anishinaabe/Turkish Cypriot and grew up in Winnipeg’s North End. She holds a master of fine arts in writing from the University of Saskatchewan. You can reach her at

With files from Olivia Stefanovich and Bartley Kives