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Spouse's comments spark big reaction

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Manitoba Treaty Commissioner Jamie Wilson was stunned Friday by the comments posted on Facebook by Lorrie Steeves, wife of mayoral candidate Gord Steeves.

So were a lot of other people.

"I would never paint an entire ethnic group on the actions of one person -- that's how racism starts," said the aboriginal educator, who works downtown. "I see racism as a huge part of the problem.

"It does nothing to help our city," said Wilson, especially coming the day after about 150 community leaders announced their annual sleepout to raise awareness about the homeless.

"I see the same four or five guys (downtown), I'm respectful to them, they're respectful to me," Wilson said.

As for Lorrie Steeves's apology: "I thought she was apologizing for being caught."

Mayoral candidate and University of Manitoba administrator Robert-Falcon Ouellette urged the Steeveses to spend some time downtown and invite people on the street into their home.

"When I think of those people on the streets I see my brothers, I see my sisters, my cousins. I even see myself in them," Ouellette said.

"Shake their hands and listen to them and talk to them. Invite them to your home to find out what it is that they want. We have to go out and listen to them like human beings.

"Why not? If you are the mayor of the city you are the mayor of everyone. Leadership is not about picking who are your followers. It's about ensuring everyone is moving along the same path. It's about leading by example," said Ouellette.

He said the Facebook posting was "pretty graphic. That's why I'm disappointed. I mean, Mr. Steeves was on city council at the time. It's a sad day for Winnipeg that we're still having this debate."

Mayoral candidate Paul Havixbeck said: "I find the comments to be offensive, but Mrs. Steeves is not a candidate in this election, and I prefer we focus on issues and positions of candidates."

Mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis declined to comment, while mayoral candidate Brian Bowman did not respond to an interview request Friday.

Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg president Damon Johnston said he was "quite affronted. It suggests a high level of ignorance.

"Something has to be done, but it has to be done with us, and not against us," said Johnston, who said that even though he knows such attitudes still exist, he believes they are held by a minority of people.

Grand Chief Terry Nelson of the Southern Chiefs Organization said he wasn't shocked by the comments, and said they are not uncommon among non-natives.

"Racism is well-concealed," said Nelson. "Most people don't come out with it publicly, but at private dinners or with people conversing with each other, that usually happens."

The revelation is bound to hurt Steeves' campaign, but is not necessarily fatal, said one political analyst.

"I think it is possible to survive it, given that he wasn't the one that said it, but it's certainly not good for his campaign," said Prof. Royce Koop, who teaches political science at the University of Manitoba.

"We need to think about whether candidates should be held accountable for comments that their partners make, or their kids make or their friends make. We need to kind of wonder whether we're going down a slippery slope... without condoning these specific comments, which of course are very, very ugly."

U of M native studies Prof. Niigaanwewidam Sinclair declined to be interviewed because he is an indigenous policies adviser to mayoral candidate Judy Wasylycia-Leis, but said on his Facebook site: "Let's hear you justify THIS Mayoral Candidate Steeves. Yah, that's what I thought."

A lot of people commented on Facebook and Twitter:

Ryerson University Prof. Pam Palmater: "racist stereotyping hatred fails 2 reflect appreciation 4 her privileged life based on colonization n dispossesion of FNs"

Megan Benedictson: "The problem is with those who refuse to see all human beings as people."

Wab Kinew: "Tweet me when Gord Steeves does the right thing and drops out of the race."

-- with files from Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2014 A4

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