A Manitoba First Nations chief does not accept an apology from a fishing lodge owner whose visitors' guide contained racist remarks about aboriginal people.
"This … is not an apology for anything — it’s a list of excuses and defences," Chief Arlen Dumas of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation said Thursday.
"A sincere apology is one which acknowledges the wrongdoing, accepts responsibility for the harm that was caused, promises to never repeat the offensive action, and then offers to make amends for any harm done."
Dumas said he received numerous emails, phone calls and faxes from band members and other lodge owners in the province on Wednesday, all bringing to his attention remarks contained in promotional brochures for the Laurie River Lodge, which is owned by Brent and Erin Fleck, near Lynn Lake, Man.
The offending section of the 37-page brochure, aimed at people planning a trip to the lodge, is found on Page 10 and reads:
"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 [sic] 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."
The guides employed at Laurie River Lodge are from Pukatawagan, which is part of the Mathias Colomb First Nation.
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Dumas, who called the brochure's content a "racist, discriminatory incitement of hatred," said he received an email on Thursday from Brent Fleck. It read:
"I wish to convey my most sincere apologizes for the wording of the section that covers alcohol to our staff members. It was written MANY, MANY years ago and should have been updated…. When I originally wrote that paragraph my intention was to ensure that there was no pressure put on our guides to consume alcohol with their guests when they were in fact responsible for the health and safety of the fishermen in their boat. After reading the paragraph in my trip planning guide I have to agree that, despite the fact that it was not intended to offend anyone, it could be taken in that context. I am in the process of removing the offending paragraph from my literature. I also would like to sincerely apologize to anyone that it may have offended."
But Dumas accused Fleck of not taking responsibility for the content in the brochure.
"If you read the statements in his apology, he doesn't actually apologize," Dumas said. "He apologizes for how wording could have been misrepresented or misunderstood."
The chief said he wants a public apology from the Flecks to all Cree people, as well as individual letters of apology to indigenous individuals who work at the lodge.
As well, Dumas said the lodge must find a way to make amends to the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.
'Do not feed the bears'
The lodge made national headlines on Wednesday after the story about the controversial brochure hit social media and the mainstream media.
"It's totally derogatory, totally treating us like an animal," said Grand Chief David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents First Nations across northern Manitoba
"Basically, you're saying, 'Do not feed the bears,' right? 'Don't give alcohol to these First Nations.' Nobody in their right mind would say such comments."
Niigaan Sinclair, an assistant professor of native studies at the University of Manitoba, said while he is happy that Fleck apologized, he isn't surprised by the original comments in the brochure.
Sinclair said he encounters stereotypes about "drunken Indians" all the time, even among first-year university students.
"My surprise was the immense amount of reaction and the retraction that the owner of the lodge then did sort of saying that the program was old, and also the wide scale … public education that took place as a result — it was quite encouraging."
Lodge owner says he made 'stupid' mistake
Fleck told CBC News on Thursday that the offensive paragraphs were in an old trip planning guide that he has used for 15 years.
"Quite honestly, I had forgotten that that paragraph was even in there. And when this whole thing first came to light, I'm like, 'Holy cow, how could I be so stupid?'" he said.
Fleck called it "stupid" and "a total mistake."
"I've issued an apology to the chief down in Pukatawagan and to the natives that work for me," he said.
"It's certainly not our opinion and not something that we want to forward in any way shape or form."
Although Fleck said it was written 15 years ago, that section of the guide was just noticed recently by someone and spread rapidly through social media. Fleck said he has since removed the guide from the lodge's website.
He elaborated on the reason he provided to Dumas as to why it was there in the first place.
"We run a very high repeat business here at Laurie River and many of our guides have guided the same guests for 20 years or more. Friendships are cemented with great memories of days on the water. That same friendship puts a guide in an awkward position if a guest offers him an alcoholic beverage," he said.
"He is a professional and he is responsible for the health and welfare of his guests while on the water. If he accepts the drink, his ability to ensure that safety is diminished. If he does not accept it he may feel that he runs the risk of offending the guest. The best solution is to let the guest know well beforehand that he should not offer.
"The sentence was poorly worded [in the brochure] and for that I feel horrible."
Backlash in community and online
Richard Dumas, a Mathias Colomb member living in Winnipeg, said people back home are offended by the lodge brochure, which suggests racism still exists in their own backyard.
"Why would he put that there, then, 15 years ago? Was it a different mentality then?" he said. "Even if it was, that's still not right to put stuff like that in."
He said one solution might be to have the lodge hire youth so Fleck can "show his clients and Americans that our people are strong, working, hard-working youth.
"Then our youth have an opportunity [and] he has an opportunity to make amends."
The wording was denounced by people posting on the lodge's Facebook page.
"Disgusting ... it speaks volumes of your own intolerance to basic intelligence," read one comment.
"An incredible display of racism," read another.
Harper said the Manitoba government should look into the matter to see whether it could crack down on the lodge through licensing or some other mechanism.
"In order for licences to be approved, these kind of comments should also be a factor," he said.
Deputy premier Eric Robinson, who is aboriginal and a former tourism minister, said on Wednesday that an apology was necessary, but he was also giving the lodge owners the benefit of the doubt.
"I think it's an oversight on their part and perhaps they didn't proofread what was written."
Read a statement from Chief Arlen Dumas and public comments on Laurie River Lodge's Facebook page below.