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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Attack on Morris editor unwarranted

Posted: 01/29/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Lindor Reynolds column Poison in a small town is an unwarranted attack on Reed Turcotte, the editor of the Morris Mirror, his supporters and the town of Morris.

Reynolds states: "Morris is a dot on the map where the editor of a small paper used his pulpit to promote hatred against aboriginal people." "This was a small town like any other before hatred oozed out." "Unless Morris wants to join Selma, Ala., in the annals of shame, it's time to stand up and be counted."

These are powerful accusations of hate mongering and racism that in my opinion are not justifiable on the basis of what has been written.

Look at Turcotte's statement: "Thumbs down to Canada's native community and those of Manitoba who are demanding unrealistic expectations of the government and who in some cases are acting like terrorists in their own country. Indians/natives want it all but corruption and laziness prevent some of them from working for it."

Thumbs down means disapproval, nothing more. Turcotte disapproves of native communities making what he considers to be unrealistic demands on the government. Although the demands of First Nations are not spelled out here I can think of some that I would say are unrealistic, such as demanding resource revenue from the federal government when provincial governments control most resources or insisting that the Governor General take a role in setting policy.

To disapprove of such demands does not mean that one is promoting hatred or inciting action against those making the demands, nor is it an effort to deprive them of their rights.

Turcotte evidently believes that the people making what he considers to be unrealistic demands are in some cases acting like terrorists in their own country. There is justification in the Criminal Code for thinking such a thing.

Consider the following statement from a Department of Justice website: "In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as an act committed 'in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause with the intention of intimidating the public' with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act."

When the people of Morris see TV coverage of blockades across Canada and hear threats to bring the economy to its knees unless demands are met, it would be rational for them to feel that efforts are being made to intimidate the public.

In their particular case, they perhaps put these actions in the context of having some years earlier heard a neighbouring chief say that the only two ways to deal with the white man is to pick up a gun or stand between him and his money.

All things considered, it is understandable that they might feel intimidated.

Now consider Turcotte's second sentence: "Indians/natives want it all but corruption and laziness prevent some of them from working for it."

That is an insensitive statement but insensitivity does not mean that the statement is intended to promote hatred or to deprive native people of their rights. I take Mr. Turcotte's statement to mean that aboriginal people want the same general level of economic well-being as other Canadians enjoy but that corruption and laziness are preventing some of them from working for it. Anyone with an interest in government-First Nations relationships knows that allegations of corruption are frequently made by First Nations members.

In cases where financial accounting is inadequate, it is impossible to know if these allegations are true or false but it is not unreasonable to give credence to what these members allege. Corruption in a First Nations government can stifle economic opportunity as it does when it occurs in non-native governments.

As for the alleged role of laziness, I have worked with First Nations people who made jokes about stereotypes such as laziness and "Indian time." Some First Nation leaders even publicly identify these traits as problems for their people.

I accept that what is OK for them to talk about is not helpful for non-natives to talk about but I do not accept that Turcotte promoted hatred or was attempting to deny aboriginal people their rights when he identified laziness as a factor holding some people back.

Reynolds equates commentary in Morris regarding First Nations demands with the reaction of white folks to the struggle of black people in the southern United States to achieve equal rights 50 or 60 years ago. I think this is insulting to the people of Morris; it diminishes the heroic struggle of black people against racism and it misrepresents the issues at the core of current aboriginal protests. Ms. Reynolds' accusations contribute to the diminishing importance of the term racist. It has become nothing more than an insult.

I do not know Turcotte or anyone who has responded to his comments or was named in Reynolds' column, but my guess is that there are few if any people in Morris who do not wish for conditions that would enable First Nations people across Canada to fully participate at all levels of the Canadian economy.

Brian Ransom, a minister in the Conservative government of Sterling Lyon, is a consultant to First Nations on Manitoba Hydro issues.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2013 A6

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