Wab Kinew: A Leader Bridging Indigenous Heritage and Modern Politics

Wab Kinew: A Leader Bridging Indigenous Heritage and Modern Politics

Wabanakwut “Wab” Kinew is a name familiar to many Canadians and all around Indian Country. Born on December 31, 1981, Wab Kinew is renowned for his work in numerous industries, including politics, media, music, and education.

I briefly met him at the 2024 Manito Ahbee Pow Wow.  He has committed to hosting a special at Manito Ahbee for the next four years as a way to give back to the community.  I'm excited to see a politician who grew up around Pow Wows.  And he's a pretty good Chicken Dancer!

wab kinew - manito ahbee 2

Who Is Wab Kinew?

Wab Kinew is a Canadian politician who became the 25th Premier of Manitoba on October 18, 2023 and the first Indigenous person to serve in that position. He is the leader of the Manitoba New Democratic Party (NDP), a position he has held since September 16, 2017.

Before politics, Kinew is an author, musician, broadcaster, and university administrator. He is the first provincial premier of First Nations descent in Canada. And the first Indigenous premier in Manitoba since Métis Premier John Norquay in 1887.

Early Life And Education

Wab Kinew was born in Kenora, Ontario, and is from the Onigaming First Nation. His father, Tobasonakwut Kinew, was a local and regional chief. Also, a professor of Indigenous governance. His mother, Dr. Kathi Avery Kinew, is a policy analyst.

During his childhood, Kinew moved to suburban Winnipeg, Manitoba. There, he attended Collège Béliveau, a French immersion school. He graduated from the University of Winnipeg Collegiate. He later graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts in economics. Kinew also pursued a master's degree in Indigenous governance.

Career In Media And Music

Wab Kinew’s career in broadcasting began after a letter he wrote to the Winnipeg Free Press. It caught the attention of a local CBC Radio producer. This led to various roles at CBC, where he hosted shows like “The 204” and the documentary series “8th Fire.” He also hosted the documentary “Fault Lines” on Al Jazeera America.

Wab Kinew has had an exciting journey in music. Before going solo, he was part of hip-hop groups like Slangblossom and the Dead Indians. These experiences helped shape his unique style. His music often tells stories about his Indigenous heritage and tackles important social issues.

Wab's songs are powerful and meaningful, blending traditional Indigenous sounds with modern hip-hop. He's not just a performer; he's also a talented songwriter and producer. Through his music, Wab connects traditional and modern worlds. His work in music is a big part of what makes him such a special and influential figure.

Contributions To Indian Country

Kinew has made substantial contributions to the Indigenous community in various ways. He served as the University of Winnipeg's first director of Indigenous Inclusion and later as an associate vice-president of Indigenous Relations.

He is a witness for the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It highlights his commitment to addressing historical injustices faced by Indigenous peoples. In politics, Kinew has strongly advocated for Indigenous rights and reconciliation.

In honor of residential school survivors, he introduced Bill 223 to mark September 30 as Orange Shirt Day. He also introduced Bill 228, the Sikh Heritage Month Act. Moreover, a private member's bill to recognize Métis leader Louis Riel as Manitoba's honorary first premier.

Wab Kinew’s Viral Moment

One of Wab Kinew’s most memorable moments went viral when he was photographed changing a tire. The incident occurred after a family member's car had a blowout while returning from a funeral at Little Saskatchewan First Nation.

Kinew immediately went to help. This act of kindness was captured in a photo that quickly spread on social media. People expressed their pride and admiration for Kinew's generosity and leadership.

The image sparked a wave of humorous memes. They depict Kinew in various scenarios. Like picking berries, making an Indian taco, gutting a moose, and milking a cow. Kinew took the memes in stride, sharing laughs with his staff and family. He appreciated the light-hearted posts, noting that they helped keep him humble.

Personal Life

Wab Kinew has faced personal challenges and has been open about his journey. He struggled with alcohol issues in his youth but has since turned his life around. He attended sweat lodges and participated in sun dance ceremonies. He regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

In 2016, the Parole Board of Canada granted him a pardon, which cleared his past convictions from the Canadian Police Information Centre database. Kinew is married to Dr. Lisa Monkman, an Ojibway family physician. They have a son together, born in May 2017, and Kinew has two sons from a previous relationship. He is trilingual, speaking Ojibwe, English, and French.

Political Career And Achievements

Wab Kinew's political journey began in 2016. He was elected as the Manitoba NDP candidate for Fort Rouge. Despite facing controversies over past social media posts, he won the election. He was appointed as the party's spokesperson for reconciliation and the opposition critic for Education, Advanced Learning and Training, along with Housing and Community Development.

In 2017, Kinew was elected as the leader of the Manitoba NDP, becoming the first First Nations person to lead a major political party in Manitoba. His leadership guided the NDP to win the 2023 provincial election. He became Manitoba's first First Nations premier.

Vision For Manitoba

As Premier of Manitoba, Kinew has promised significant changes, particularly in healthcare. His campaign focused on reopening three recently closed emergency rooms and establishing a new cancer care center. He has also committed to investing in more social housing, which reflects his dedication to improving the lives of Manitobans.

Honors and Awards

Wab Kinew has received significant recognition for his contributions. On October 25, 2014, he got an honorary doctorate from Cape Breton University. This award acknowledged his efforts and impact in promoting Indigenous rights and reconciliation.


Kinew has written four books published by Penguin Canada. “The Reason You Walk,” “Go Show the World,” “Walking in Two Worlds,” and “The Everlasting Road.”

The Reason You Walk: A Memoir
  • Hardcover Book
  • Kinew, Wab (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 288 Pages - 09/29/2015 (Publication Date) - Viking (Publisher)
Walking in Two Worlds
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Wab Kinew (Author) - Joelle Peters, Wab Kinew (Narrators)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 09/14/2021 (Publication Date) - Penguin Teen Canada (Publisher)
The Everlasting Road
  • Audible Audiobook
  • Wab Kinew (Author) - Michelle Bardach (Narrator)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 01/10/2023 (Publication Date) - Tundra Books (Publisher)
Go Show the World: A Celebration of Indigenous Heroes
  • Hardcover Book
  • Kinew, Wab (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 40 Pages - 09/11/2018 (Publication Date) - Tundra Books (Publisher)

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Public Recognition

Kinew's work has earned him public recognition. He won the 2016 Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for non-fiction for “The Reason You Walk,”. It came with a $10,000 cash award. His book, “Go Show the World,” was shortlisted for the 2018 Governor General’s Literary Award. For young people's literature, highlighting his talent and impact as an author.

Music Awards

Wab Kinew has also made his mark in the music industry. His debut CD, “Live by the Drum,” won an Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Award for Best Rap/Hip-Hop CD. His second CD, “Mide-Sun,” further solidified his place as a recognized musician. These awards show his diverse talents and dedication. He promotes Indigenous culture through music.

Past Controversies

Wab Kinew’s past wasn't always smooth. In 2003, he was arrested for impaired driving.  After driving, run away and refused a breathalyzer test. That same year, he faced domestic assault charges. Which were later dropped, but the allegations stuck with him.

In 2004, he got into a fight with a taxi driver, leading to an assault conviction. He also had a conditional discharge for another assault in Ontario. During this rough period, Kinew struggled with alcohol. To turn his life around, he attended sweat lodges and participated in sun dances. He continuously went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. These steps show his strong commitment to overcoming his past and growing.

Legacy And Impact

Wab Kinew's journey from broadcaster and musician to premier of Manitoba shows his resilience and dedication. In media, he highlighted Indigenous stories and won awards for his music. As Manitoba's first First Nations premier, he introduced key laws like Bill 223 for Orange Shirt Day and the Sikh Heritage Month Act.

He also honored Louis Riel as Manitoba's first premier. Overcoming personal struggles with alcohol, Wab turned his life around through traditional healing and was pardoned in 2016. He speaks Ojibwe, English, and French and promotes Indigenous culture and languages. Wab's leadership and advocacy for Indigenous rights inspire many. His legacy is one of strength, cultural pride, and positive impact.

About Paul G

Paul G is the founder PowWows.com, who wears many hats as a business coach, photographer, and collector of quirky shirts. Paul started PowWows.com in 1996 while pursuing his graduate degree. With a passion for travel, he and his family hav  traveled the world, capturing unforgettable memories and photos. When he's not coaching or clicking, he's indulging in the magic of Disney.

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