Wab Kinew being elected as the first Indigenous premier is historic, and a golden opportunity for him to set a different course for Indigenous peoples in Manitoba.
Similarly, when Barack Obama was elected the first Black president, it was historic but there are different opinions on what that can mean.
Manitobans should adjust their expectations. Having a government led by a First Nation person for the first time does not mean First Nations and Metis people in Manitoba will automatically receive economic prosperity and quality of services that many Manitobans take for granted.
Besides that fact most aspects of Indigenous policy are set by Ottawa, so we need to be realistic.
When Obama was elected, many Black Americans felt they had a champion for their various causes – whether good or more misguided and downright wrong – when he entered the White House. Historians differ in opinion, but by and large Obama fell into the role of president who happened to be Black, not the president to serve only Black issues and causes.
Premier Kinew needs to assume that same role.
There are politics to consider. Indigenous people are numerous in Manitoba but are still a minority. Kinew cannot afford to alienate the majority for the sake of certain causes.
Our new premier has two paths open to him.
He can act like head waiter to all the various Indigenous organizations in Manitoba and serve their specific causes. This will involve wading into divisive weeds and political battles of Manitoba’s First Nation and Metis communities and risk alienating Manitobans who are proud of having the first Indigenous premier but want him to deliver for all Manitobans.
The second path involves leading by example as a successful First Nation man who inspires Indigenous people with his life story of change and redemption. He can also embrace a prosperity agenda for all Indigenous people in Manitoba.
So far, Premier Kinew is treading onto the first path by marking the controversial Louis Riel as an honourary premier. This author is Metis but this is contentious and is a distraction from issues that matter for Manitobans. Another test will be if Premier Kinew moves to expropriate a private campground in Brandon in the name of protecting a burial site for a local residential school. Manitobans care about this sensitive issue but there are other ways to protect this site without destroying a business.
Adopting a prosperity path for Indigenous people in Manitoba involves a few rejections.
First, Kinew must disavow his previous statements by rejecting Ottawa’s misguided Net Zero climate fantasy.
In fact, the incoming premier can take his cue from the recent Supreme Court judgment over Bill C-69, Ottawa’s sweeping environmental impact legislation. Our highest court found Ottawa overstepped into provincial jurisdiction with its plan to impose its hard green climate agenda on the provinces.
Kinew must join with other premiers in opposing Ottawa’s plans.
Manitoba’s Indigenous communities involved in resource projects need freedom from Ottawa’s constant regulatory over reach.
Kinew must reject the NDP’s only recently found hostility towards developing natural resources. Over the coming months, the new government should adopt pro-growth mining policies and improve its duty to consult and accommodate First Nations policy to make it easier to approve projects here. It’s a no brainer – doing this will create good union jobs if Manitoba rides the global wave to develop battery minerals needed to accommodate the coming EV revolution.
The prosperity path is the way forward Premier Kinew.
Joseph Quesnel, who is Metis, is a Senior Research Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.