Controversial cut-out removed from Grand Falls tourism centre

A photo-op cut-out depicting an Indigenous woman has been removed from the Malabeam Tourist Information Centre in Grand Falls after complaints that it was inappropriate.

Photo-op attraction let visitors pose as part of a depiction of a Maliseet woman

Jeff Doucette, a former Grand Falls priest, wrote a letter of complaint to council after seeing the 'culturally inappropriate' cut-out during a recent visit to the tourist centre. (Jeff Doucette/Facebook)

A photo-op cut-out depicting an Indigenous woman has been removed from the Malabeam Tourist Information Centre in Grand Falls after complaints that it was inappropriate.

An elder from Tobique First Nation is now pushing to have a nearby statue of the Maliseet woman depicted in the cut-out — Malobiannah — also removed.

According to legend, Malobiannah sacrificed herself to save her people during an Iroquois invasion. She was captured by the Iroquois and knowing how to navigate the St. John River, she guided a war party of about 200 Iroquois to their deaths over the Grand Falls, according to Canada's Historic Places website.

Dan Ennis contends the legend is fabricated, and having reminders of it will only encourage more creations like the cut-out.

They're putting us Indians into some kind of inanimate objects that you can make fun of and make money off of, by ridiculing our culture.- Dan Ennis , Tobique First Nation elder

Mayor Marcel Deschenes said council has no plans to remove the statue.

The town's tourism department decided to remove the cut-out after receiving two formal complaints.

Deschenes said the cut-out was put up a few years ago and there were no complaints until this year.

"It's no different than going to Anne of the Green Gables or Mickey Mouse," he said.

Still, the town takes complaints seriously, so after he met with the tourism department, the cut-out was taken down.

"They didn't want to cause any disturbance," the mayor said.

'No-brainer'

Jeff Doucette, who filed one of the complaints, called the decision a "no-brainer."

Doucette, a United Church of Canada minister in Pickering, Ont., who is from the Plaster Rock area and served as a priest in Grand Falls in the 1990s, saw the cut-out while vacationing with his wife in October and was "horrified."

"I became sick to my stomach to be honest," he wrote in his letter to council, which he posted on his Facebook page and on Twitter, urging others to voice concerns.

"I was in shock that in 2017 I would see such a thing there," he wrote, pleading with council to remove the "culturally inappropriate" cut-out that allows people to "play Indian."

"We're talking about a group of people who have gone through residential schools, who have had land taken away from them, who have had their names removed, who have been told no longer to wear their cultural clothes, to practise their cultures and traditions, and to stop speaking their native languages, and it just seemed really, really wrong," he told CBC News on Monday.

Ennis said he'd heard of the cut-out but on a stop at the tourist centre had only seen the statue.

"I didn't like the statue that was there, so why should I like a cut-out, where somebody can can put their face into an Indian head and refer to themselves as an Indian for a snapshot?" he said.

Objects to mayor's analogy

Ennis said he didn't lodge his formal complaint until he heard the mayor comparing the Malabeam statue and cut-out to other tourist attractions.

"It puts me in the category of Mickey Mouse or a Donald Duck or some God damned lobster in Shediac."

The Malobiannah legend itself was made up generations ago by someone on the reserve, he said. He said the statue should be removed so no one is tempted to use it as a mascot. 

"They're putting us Indians into some kind of inanimate objects that you can make fun of and make money off of, by ridiculing our culture," Ennis said.

Deschenes said the Malabeam statue is a tourism opportunity and not meant to incite discontent. 

Although Tobique is only about a half-hour's drive from Grand Falls, Deschenes said the statue seems to be an issue with people outside the region, rather than in his community.