Kitigan Zibi chief denounces Indigenous festival as 'cultural appropriation'
Algonquin leader calls the organizers behind Gatineau event a ‘made-up group’
The chief of Kitigan Zibi Anishinābeg has denounced an Indigenous festival running in Gatineau, Que., this week as "inappropriate," accusing the main organizers behind the event of being a "non-Indigenous group."
"What you and your organization does … can cause more harm to legitimate Section 35 First Nations peoples in our territory," Dylan Whiteduck, chief of the council for the Algonquin community north of Ottawa-Gatineau, wrote in a public letter Feb. 21.
The comments come after the Native Alliance of Quebec (NAQ) sent an invitation to Whiteduck, asking him to speak at the Rendez-vous des Nations celebration.
The four-day event, which begins Wednesday at the Zibi development in Gatineau, includes "Aboriginal artists, drummers, dancers and exhibitors," according to the NAQ.
The Canada Revenue Agency has in the past investigated the alleged misuse of membership cards issued by NAQ and other entities. NAQ's ID cards are not federally recognized as official Indian-status identification, but some people have used them to dodge taxes.
The NAQ says it has been advocating for Indigenous people living off-reserve in Quebec since 1972.
"I was surprised," Whiteduck told CBC over the phone Tuesday.
"I wouldn't be caught dead at their events or anything [that's] a part of their association or group," he said. "They do not represent First Nations off reserve at all."
Whiteduck called the NAQ "a made-up group organization made up of a few non-Indigenous people."'
He told the NAQ as much, writing a strongly worded letter and posting it on Twitter.
Asks others to distance themselves
The NAQ declined to give an interview to CBC, but issued a statement in French saying its event is an "inclusive celebration of native art and cultures of all backgrounds and in all its forms."
Nonetheless, Whiteduck called NAQ's actions a form of "cultural appropriation" in his letter.
He also urged caution to those involved with or planning to attend the event.
"I've seen it from the woodworks for many years now, people trying to obviously benefit from our inherent rights as First Nations people," he told CBC, calling the event "unacceptable."
In its invitation letter to the chief, the NAQ said it "applied for and was approved for a budget from the Government of Canada, under the Reopening Fund program."
The fund was designed to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canadian Heritage, which runs the program, has not confirmed by the time of publication whether it allotted funds for the festival.
I wouldn't be caught dead at their events or anything [that's] a part of their association.- Chief Dylan Whiteduck
In his letter, Whiteduck calls on the ministers of Quebec, the City of Gatineau, the Zibi development and Canadian Heritage "to respect and adhere to our concerns."
"We are seeking immediate action on your part to distance yourselves as a demonstration of your willingness to work in a conciliatory manner with [Kitigan Zibi Anishinābeg]," he said.
In an emailed statement written in French to CBC/Radio-Canada, the mayor of Gatineau wrote that the city "has not collaborated or contributed to the Rendez-vous des Nations event" and said its relationship with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinābeg Nation is important to maintain.
CBC has reached out to other federal departments for comment and has not heard back.
With files from Avanthika Anand