It is hard to believe that in 2014, there are still businesses who provide services to the public that have no problem profiting from the lands, resources and traditional knowledges of Indigenous peoples, but who, at the same time, spread racism and hatred against us. Laurie River Lodge, an outdoor adventure business located in northern Manitoba and owned by Brent and Erin Fleck, is one such company.
On the same page that the Lodge warns its customers about animals, it provides a warning about its Cree Indian guides. The offending comments can be found on page 10, under the section entitled "Section 1-9 What You Can Expect From Us":
We take great care when hiring our staff; however the subject of Native Guides must be touched upon. We use Cree Indian guides from the town of Pukatawagon in northern Manitoba. They are wonderful people and fun to fish with however, like all Native North Americans, they have a basic intolerance for alcohol. Please do not give my guides alcohol under any circumstances. This is rarely a problem and by telling you in advance I hope to avoid it altogether.
The Lodge is speaking about the band members of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) whose primary reserve is located in Pukatawagan in northern Manitoba. They apparently use MCCN band members as guides for their business. It is also noteworthy that this business uses the lands and resources contained within MCCN's traditional, treaty and reserve lands as well as their trap-lines. Band members were so upset by these racist remarks that they contacted Chief Arlen Dumas and asked that he look into this and he responded immediately by sending out a letter to the Lodge owners.
Chief Dumas explained that he was "appalled" to see that this business profits from his Nation's lands, resources and people, but at the same time promotes racist stereotypes against the very people they use to make this profit: Cree guides.
Chief Dumas explains:
Not only did you single out the band members from our reserve in Pukatawagan, but your brochure presented an ominous or threatening tone by stating and/or implying that:
(1) Our Cree people have a genetic and/or biological intolerance for alcohol due to their race;
(2) You warned the public against giving our members any alcohol due to this intolerance, one can only presume you meant that some sort of harm would come to the public; and
(3) That while rare, this "problem" does occur and the public needs to avoid it.
None of the above statements or implications about our people are true. The comments are racist and negative stereotypes which only serve to promote or incite hatred against our people. There is no scientific basis for your claim that Cree people have an intolerance for alcohol, nor is there any basis for alleging that our Cree people would drink while working or that the pose a risk to the public.
As a result of such discriminatory remarks, Chief Dumas demanded that the remarks be removed from the website; a public apology be offered to all Cree and First Nation people; personal letters of apology be sent to all their Cree employees; and that they make amends to MCCN.
He concluded the letter by stating that if the Lodge owners refuse to address the issue, he would "have no choice but to take further steps to protect my band members from your racist, discriminatory incitement of hatred."
Chief Dumas is right to be upset about these public comments. It is not just a matter of taking offense to insulting words, this Lodge potentially faces a discrimination complaint, a civil suit and very bad publicity for their business.
The Manitoba Human Rights Code (provincial law) provides that Manitobans recognize that "to protect this right it is necessary to restrict unreasonable discrimination against individuals, including discrimination based on stereotypes or generalizations about groups with whom they are or are thought to be associated, and to ensure that reasonable accommodation is made for those with special needs" and such discrimination is prohibited.
The Criminal Code (federal law) under section 319 makes the public incitement of hatred against a particular group, like the Cree people a criminal offense.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (constitutional law) also provides that:
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability".
Even international law protects people from racism and discrimination.
If morals could not guide these business owners, certainly they have an obligation to follow the law. It is no wonder why discrimination against Indigenous peoples has not subsided, given openly racist attitudes like this.
One would have thought the days of warning people against animals and Indians were over.
Editor's note: Since this story broke, the owner of Laurie River lodge has issued an apology to Chief Dumas and has promised to remove the offensive passage from his facility's brochure.
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