Wab Kinew was sworn-in as Manitoba premier and named his lineup of cabinet ministers Wednesday in a colourful ceremony filled with the music and customs of the many Indigenous communities in the province.
There was Métis jigging accompanied by a fiddle, Dakota singing and drumming and the lighting of an Inuit qulliq -- an oil lamp -- during the two-hour event that marked the inauguration of the first First Nations premier of a Canadian province.
Kinew said his diverse cabinet, which includes all regions of the province, sends a message to young people "that no matter who you are, no matter where you come from and no matter which barriers you have to overcome on your life's path, that the road to success is open for you."
The crowd of dignitaries included Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham, actor Adam Beach and Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization, which represents 34 Anishnaabe and Dakota First Nations in southern Manitoba.
Murray Sinclair, a former judge and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said he was honoured to congratulate Kinew.
"It really is Manitoba's true act of reconciliation, and I want you to think of it that way. I want you to think of the fact that we are now entering a new phase," Sinclair said to applause from the crowd.
"That phase ultimately is going to lead to a relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in which we are able to show true respect to all of those who are here and all of those who come here."
Kinew, a former broadcaster and university administrator, led the New Democrats to victory on Oct. 3 and defeated the Progressive Conservatives, who had been in power for seven years. The NDP captured 34 of the 57 legislature seats.
Among the new cabinet members is Uzoma Asagwara, a former psychiatric nurse who was the NDP health critic in Opposition. Asagwara is the minister of health, seniors and long-term care, and also the deputy premier.
Adrien Sala, a former civil servant who served as Opposition finance critic for the NDP, is now finance minister.
Matt Wiebe, one of the longer-serving New Democrats first elected in 2010, is now justice minister.
The cabinet also features, for the first time, First Nations women. Nahanni Fontaine, the party's house leader who is serving her third term, is now the minister of families. Bernadette Smith is minister of housing, addiction and homelessness.
Kinew also named some cabinet ministers from western Manitoba, where the NDP have traditionally won few seats.
Ron Kostyshyn, from Dauphin, has become the agriculture minister for the second time. He had the same portfolio under former premier Greg Selinger before losing his seat in 2016. Glen Simard, newly elected in Brandon East, is now minister of sport, culture, heritage and tourism. The move gives Manitoba's second-largest city a seat at the cabinet table.
With the election over, Kinew now turns to his campaign promises: boosting health care, including reopening three hospital emergency departments closed by the Tories; temporarily suspending the fuel tax to help people with inflation; and ending chronic homelessness within eight years.
"The expectations are very high, but I feel that we can meet them by working with you, the people of Manitoba," Kinew said.
He has also promised to find ways to better prevent people from dying before they become adults -- another challenge he described as high. Better pre-natal care and a new anti-suicide strategy will be part of that plan, he said.
Kinew has also pledged to search the Prairie Green Landfill, north of Winnipeg, for the remains of two Indigenous women believed to have been taken there after being killed.
Former Tory premier Heather Stefanson rejected calls for a search, citing hazards posed by asbestos and other toxic material. A federally funded study said a search is feasible, but a plan to protect workers would need to be developed and there would be no guarantee of finding the women's remains.
More immediately, Kinew is expected to recall the legislature in the coming weeks to elect a new speaker and introduce bills before the holiday break
Among those bills will be one to suspend the 14-cent-a-litre fuel tax until inflation subsides, he said, and another to help bolster staffing levels in health care.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2023.