Technology & Science

An old photo of Stephen Harper in Indigenous garb is being misrepresented online

In an attempt to defend the images of Justin Trudeau in blackface, people are sharing an out-of-context photo of former prime minister Stephen Harper from when he was named an honorary chief.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has his face painted by Blood Tribe elder Pete Standing Alone while being made an honorary chief of the tribe during a ceremony in Stand Off, Alta., in 2011. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

In the wake of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau's blackface scandal, an image of Stephen Harper is being shared online showing the former prime minister wearing an Indigenous headdress and face paint.

Those posting the images are attempting to draw parallels between the images of Trudeau wearing blackface makeup and the photo of Harper. But Harper wasn't wearing a costume at the time — he was taking part in a ceremony naming him an honorary chief.

This Facebook post was shared more than 5,600 times. Many people have been attempting to compare this image of Harper with images of Trudeau in blackface. (Screengrab/Facebook)

In 2011, Harper was given the ceremonial title by the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta. As part of the ceremony, Blood Tribe elder Pete Standing Alone painted Harper's face and placed a headdress of eagle feathers on his head.

The title is considered a great honour and has been bestowed upon other world leaders, including Prince Charles and Pope John Paul II. In 2016, Trudeau himself was given an aboriginal name by the Tsuut'ina First Nation during a ceremony that saw him presented with a traditional headdress, which he subsequently wore.

But many people are sharing the photo of Harper on Facebook and Twitter without this context. One Facebook post of the photo, which has been shared more than 5,600 times, includes the caption: "Stephen Harper is astounded at Trudeaus [sic] racist costume from 20 years ago ..."

"The chiefs chose to put a headdress on Harper and they brought in people from their faith and they coloured his face. It was all part of a cultural and religious ceremony," said Robert Jago a Montreal-based writer and a member of the Kwantlen First Nation.

"When you point to that and you point at the colour on his face and you laugh at it, you're not laughing at Harper. You're laughing at the people that put the colour there."

Jago tweeted about the image over the weekend after seeing it shared by several people on Facebook. He said there's a stark difference between the photo of Harper at that ceremony and the images of Trudeau wearing blackface. 

"People are partisans and don't really appreciate what the actual issue is, or they don't want to engage with it, so they'd rather deflect and say, 'Everybody does this,'" Jago said.

"But if you're saying that participating in a ceremony from another religion or another culture is the same as Trudeau's minstrel acts, you are being really cruel towards minorities, and sharing the same level of ignorance that Trudeau says he got over after 2001."

Want to learn how to spot deepfakes, altered photos and articles that may look like they're from news sites — but aren't? Talk to our Facebook Messenger chat bot.

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