Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let's cut the Biebs some slack

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I was surprised by the Justin Bieber backlash last week.

The young pop star ruffled a few feathers with comments in a recent Rolling Stone interview about his aboriginal heritage.

"I'm actually part Indian," the young Biebs said. "I think Inuit or something? I'm enough percent that in Canada I can get free gas."

My guess is Bieber has a treaty card, and maybe a family member was teasing him and told him that he could get free gas with it. I remember telling my own son that yarn a few times when he was a kid.

You can't get free gas, but you can get a discount on gas on some reserves if you have a treaty card.

I was a little surprised but I should have known Bieber was aboriginal. Who else would go out and buy a chrome-plated car? He's a bling-lover after my own heart.

Well, it didn't take long for a few aboriginal leaders to take the kid to task.

Dwight Dorey of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples complained Biebs is perpetuating a misconception that all natives get a "free ride."

Wow, a free ride to poverty? Bad health? Anyone who believes aboriginal people get a free ride isn't very educated. The idea that Justin Bieber's comments are going to sway someone into thinking that is all kinds of hilarious.

This feels more like a chance for Dorey to get his name out in the media. Dorey professes to represent urban aboriginal people, but I have yet to see him or his organization actually do anything for us. To me, CAP is just a figurehead organization. Free ride? Hmm.

Mohawk activist Ellen Gabriel was angrier. She said Biebs' comments promoted "racist stereotypes." She called him out on Twitter, asking him to apologize to his aboriginal fans, and later asked via Twitter whether a boycott was in order if no apology was issued by Bieber.

C'mon, cut the Biebs some slack. He is, after all, just a kid.

I don't think Bieber intended to be offensive. You have to look at the context it was said in.

This was a light-hearted interview with a music magazine and it was an offhand remark from a kid who just turned 18. He may be world-famous, but he has years to go before he gets wise to the ways of the world.

Bieber is the same lad who thought The Late Night Show host David Letterman had said "Sixteen Chapel" instead of "Sistine Chapel" during an interview.

Some people are too quick to judge. We should be embracing the kid for being proud and open about his aboriginal heritage.

As the saying goes, you need to walk a few miles in their moccasins before you judge someone -- or in Justin's case, pull a few flashy dance moves. We should be welcoming Justin, not chiding him.

We don't know much about the Bieber's background -- or his family for that matter.

His heritage may have come with heavy strings attached. Maybe one of Bieber's parents was adopted, in foster care, or just didn't grow up knowing much about their aboriginal heritage.

Not everyone has the benefit of growing up on a reserve, with cultural teachings, and spending time with extended family. I remember being 18 and not knowing very much about my heritage.

To judge someone on their lack of knowledge about their culture is foolish. Many of our young people and adults are in the same boat through no fault of their own.

This says more about the effects of colonization on our people than anything to do with native stereotypes. So don't blame the Biebs. Let him grow into an adult and find his identity in his own way.

Bieber acknowledging his aboriginal heritage sends a good message to youth of every colour.

Aboriginal people are talented, hard-working, and yes, even cute. And you really can do anything if you work hard and believe in your dreams.

For any negative effect he's had, he's created a thousand times more positive vibes. Hey, I'm still a "belieber."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2012 J6

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