Congratulations to Wab Kinew, leader of Manitoba’s New Democratic Party, who made history Tuesday by being elected premier of the Canadian province, less than seven years after speaking to an assembly of seventh-graders at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County in New Milford.
Even more significantly than being a former Schechter guest, Kinew is the first member of the First Nations, as Canada’s indigenous people are known, to be elected a provincial premier. The election of New Democrats to a majority of the 57 seats in the Manitoban legislature came at the expense of Manitoba’s Progressive Conservatives, who had governed since 2016.
Speaking to the Schechter students in March 2017, six months before he won the race for provincial party leader, he told about his people’s experience — and emphasized the commonality between the First Nations and the Jewish people.
Like Jews, Canadian Indians were victims of attempted Christian genocide. For more than a century, Canadian Indian children were sent to church-run residential schools in an effort to destroy their culture. Kinew’s father was among those children.
“We use the term residential school survivors,” Kinew told the Schechter students. “Why survivor? My father shared a bunk bed with a boy who was killed in the school by an adult. My father survived.
“A few years ago, I was talking to a Holocaust survivor in Toronto. I don’t want to draw an equivalence. I want to point out a similarity. The Holocaust survivor was talking about how, because of his experience starving in a concentration camp, he would yell at his son when he wouldn’t eat all the food on his plate.
“That was what happened to me when I was growing up, because my father went hungry at residential school.
“I told the survivor, your story hit home with me, because if I was a kid and didn’t eat every bit of the apple except for the stem, my father would get mad at me.
“The Holocaust survivor kind of joked at me: ‘You didn’t eat the stem?’”