Manitobans made history Tuesday night for electing an NDP government led by Wab Kinew, who is to become the first First Nations premier of a province in Canada.
Kinew was raised as a young boy on the Onigaming First Nation in northwestern Ontario, later moving with his family to Winnipeg. His late father was not allowed to vote as a young man under Canadian law at the time.
“To witness this tonight, it’s really gratifying,” Eric Robinson, a former Manitoba NDP cabinet minister and deputy premier, said in an interview.
“I think First Nations people, and Indigenous people in general across Canada, should feel proud of Manitoba. We’ve demonstrated through perseverance, some hard work and participation in the mainstream Canadian politics, that it has paid off in a big way.”
John Norquay was the first Indigenous person to serve as Manitoba’s premier. Norquay, who was Métis, became the province’s fifth premier in 1878.
While other Métis people in Manitoba have served in elected office, the province’s history with First Nations people holding elected office only goes back a few decades.
It wasn’t until the ’50s and ’60s that First Nations people were allowed to vote without conditions in provincial and federal elections.
Cadmus Delorme, a former chief of Cowessess First Nation in southeast Saskatchewan, said in a text message the “ceiling has been lifted” for what Indigenous people can achieve.
“In 1960, Indigenous people were able to vote for the first time. (Kinew’s) parents would remember that time,” said Delorme, chair of the Residential School Documents Advisory Committee.
“As Indigenous people, we sometimes have to try twice as hard to succeed in Canada. It’s now time (Kinew) makes it normal for Indigenous people to be successful alongside Canadians.”
Outgoing Manitoba Tory premier Heather Stefanson said during her concession speech that Kinew’s win must be acknowledged.
“Wab, I hope that your win tonight inspires a future generation of Indigenous youth to get involved in our democratic process, not just here in Manitoba, but right across the country,” she said.
Kinew studied economics in university then became a radio host on CBC. He was later hired by the University of Winnipeg as its first director of Indigenous inclusion.
He decided to run for the Manitoba New Democrats in 2016 and was elected in the NDP stronghold of Fort Rouge in Winnipeg.
During his victory speech Tuesday, Kinew said young Indigenous people and those of all backgrounds who are struggling can change their lives for the better.
“But here’s the thing. You have to want it,” he said.
“If you want to leave the party lifestyle behind, it has to be you to make the decision. If you want to join the workforce, get a new career, it has to be you to take the first step. And if you’re dealing with some kind of illness and you want to find healing, it has to be you to decide to move forward.
“I can’t do that for you. A government can’t do that for you.”
But he said the government can help, if someone takes that step.
“Seek your vision. Seek your vision. Dreams come true.”
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said Kinew’s win signifies a huge accomplishment.
“It’s a new chapter for First Nations in this province,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick in a statement. “I look forward to collaborating with the premier to address the needs of our member Nations.”
Robinson said he was friends with Kinew’s late father, who passed on the importance of culture and language to Kinew as a boy.
“I have a lot of confidence that Wab will use that as he moves into the future,” he said.
“He is a very good person. I’m really, very proud of what he has done.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 3, 2023.