Saskatoon

Trudeau's comments in Saskatoon 'disrespectful,' says chief

A number of First Nations leaders are blasting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for comments made during a town hall meeting in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

'He should learn to use his words more carefully,' says Muskowekwan First Nation Chief Reginald Bellerose

Tribal Chief of the Saskatoon Tribal Council Felix Thomas poses a question to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a town hall meeting in Saskatoon on Wednesday. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

Several First Nations leaders are blasting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for comments he made during a town hall meeting in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

"He basically said chiefs do not know what the needs of First Nations are," said Muskowekwan First Nation Chief Reginald Bellerose.

"I thought that was disrespectful and he should learn to use his words more carefully."

During a 90-minute town hall meeting with Trudeau at the University of Saskatchewan, the discussion was largely civil, with questions about carbon taxes, international aid and relations with Iran.

But in a question from the floor, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Felix Thomas was critical of the "disconnect" between Trudeau's words and his government's actions. Thomas said that little of the promised billions of dollars has arrived on First Nations territory and the fiscal year is nearly over.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a town hall meeting in Saskatoon. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

"There was a lot of fanfare with the last budget," Thomas said. "But none of that money has gone to the communities yet."

Trudeau responded that much more must be done, but funding alone will not help.

Is it fair to use that and paint all the other communities with the same brush?- Chief Felix Thomas, Saskatoon Tribal Council

"I've spoken with a number of chiefs who said, 'You know, we need a youth centre.… You know, we need TVs and lounges and sofas so they can hang around.' And when a chief says that to me, I pretty much know they haven't actually talked to their young people," Trudeau told the audience in his response to Thomas.

"Because most of the young people I've talked to want a place to store their canoes and paddles so they can connect back out on the land, and a place with internet access so they can do their homework."

Sweetgrass First Nation Chief Lori Whitecalf took to Twitter shortly after CBC News published Trudeau's controversial comments.

Thomas said Trudeau should refrain from stereotyping Indigenous people. He said Saskatoon Tribal Council leaders work hard to connect with their people and they ensure there's a sound business case for any new infrastructure.

"Is it fair to use that and paint all the other communities with the same brush? Some of those rec centres are needed," Thomas said.

Bellerose was in the audience and was also taken aback.

Bellerose and Thomas noted Trudeau visited with Saskatoon's mayor and city councillors, but didn't talk to him or any other elected Saskatoon Tribal Council chiefs.

Bellerose said he and other First Nations leaders were offered little more than a photo opportunity with Trudeau. He said he would have preferred to talk about education funding or Muskowekwan's recently signed deal to host a $3-billion potash mine on the reserve.

"The selfies and stuff: I'm not into that," Bellerose said.

About the Author

Jason Warick

Reporter

Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.