Jewish group slams reinstatement of disgraced Sask aboriginal leader

Posted: March 31, 2008 in Headlines, Native Racist Hatred, Natives

Canadian Press – March 31, 2008

REGINA – The decision by a First Nations group to reinstate a controversial aboriginal leader accused of promoting hatred drew swift criticism Monday from politicians and Jewish organizations.

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations quietly reinstated David Ahenakew as a senator Friday by a vote of 43-3. But B’nai Brith Canada called the move a big mistake.

“David Ahenakew is on record for having made vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic remarks,” B’nai Brith’s Frank Dimant said Monday from Toronto. “We urge the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations to reconsider.

“The onus is on the federation to distance itself from Ahenakew’s bigotry and not to reward him by welcoming him back with open arms.”

Ahenakew was kicked out of the federation in 2002 before he was convicted of wilfully promoting hatred for comments he made to a reporter about Jews. Court heard how the former chief of the Assembly of First Nations referred to Jews as a “disease” when he was approached by a reporter after a speech in Saskatoon.

Ahenakew appealed and his conviction was overturned in 2006.

The Crown then took the case to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. Earlier this year, the court dismissed the Crown’s case and ruled that while Ahenakew’s remarks were “brutal,” he was not wilfully promoting hatred toward Jews.

The Crown has decided to proceed with a second trial expected to begin in November.

Chief Marcel Head of the Shoal Lake First Nation was one of the three chiefs who voted against Ahenakew’s reinstatement. He suggested the move could divide the federation.

“The way he portrays himself hasn’t given me anything to see that he has changed at all,” Head said.

“To me, I just fear that in the future he’ll say things that might affect the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations … that’s my worry.”

Head said the wording on the reinstatement motion talked about Ahenakew’s defence of treaty rights. Ahenakew supporters, including Chief Irvin Starblanket, have argued that Ahenakew has a lot of knowledge that the federation can use.

But that doesn’t ease Head’s worries.

“David Ahenakew hasn’t given me any comfort level in regards to his attitude, his behaviour,” said Head.

While the federation is an independent body, its decision to reinstate Ahenakew echoed loudly through the provincial legislature. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall soundly criticized the move.

“The decision that has been taken is disappointing to say the least given the extreme nature of the comments that were made,” said Wall.

“It’s not particularly helpful. We want to build a relationship … so we can deal with issues that First Nations are facing and this will be the elephant in the room, this particular decision they’ve taken with respect to Mr. Ahenakew.”

Wall said he wants to hear what federation Chief Lawrence Joseph has to say on the matter before deciding what, if any, consequences will follow. Joseph has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning.

“Hopefully they’re reconsidering this decision,” said Wall.

The outburst also led to Ahenakew being stripped of the Order of Canada. Ahenakew’s lawyer, Doug Christie, said Monday that it’s time for people to leave his client alone.

Christie noted that Ahenakew does not stand convicted and it is time to forgive and forget.

“If we really believe in tolerance we should practise it, not preach it. We should forgive those who apologize, and that is what he did,” Christie said from Victoria.

“I don’t see why he should continue to be persecuted for what he said in an indiscreet moment.”

  1. WL Mackenzie Redux says:

    Ahenakew is a bigoted racist red supremist and should be marginalized by civil society on this merit alone. I have greater fear of the damage NGO’s zealots from BB and CJC can do to civil liberty than some loud mouthed marginalized bigot like Ahenakew.

    Let the fool rant..he’s a joke and should be treated as such…but as some dire threat to Jewish community??… I think this is a reach and preposterous hysteria.

  2. caledoniawakeupcall says:

    I think the point here is that they’re not treating him like a joke or an outcast as any of us would be treated if we called Natives a “disease”.

    Instead they’ve welcomed him back as a leader, and are calling his statement which echo’s Hitler in the 1930’s “an indiscreet moment”

    I don’t see the danger being this one guy, but the clear double standard where society will turn a blind eye to racism by anyone who is part of a visible minority.

  3. rob says:


    I believe racism is over-rated, if not under-rated, from the Aboriginal perspective. Since 1969’s white paper policy, Aboriginal politicians have lobbied to give our children a fighting chance to survive in an unjust society, since then they have lobbied against a predominantly white ruling class society. Last I checked, (depending which stats you quote) Aboriginal people represent 4.3 percent of the overall Canadian population. The politics of race is undeniably a conscious reality for Aboriginal politicians. Government policy on Aboriginal peoples is dictated by the status quo, the dominant society of Canadian population, to which is continuously reverberated by the mass media in terms of promoting and maintaining the status quo (the tyranny of the majority in a democratic society). Some would go as far as to argue the mass media designs and manifests public opinion for the purpose of Government policy agenda. Historical Government policy is reflected in the current continual political and socio/economic marginalization of Aboriginal peoples. Hence, the reason why the Indian Affairs minister and the Sask. Provincial Premier’s opportunity to jump into the thick of the FSIN controversy.

    With that in mind, David Ahenakew is/was an Aboriginal veteran in the politics of race, now I do not agree nor condone the comments he made about the Jewish community. I believe somewhere along the way in his hardened political lobbying against the nation state, in his resolve of politics of race, someone fed him the garbage of a distorted hateful view on historical facts of WW2 holocaust, and ran with it. Our Constitutional right of freedom of expression means to express the right to say dumb stupid things every now and then, but if we do not receive negative feedback on hurtful comments, no human growth will take place. I believe he has learned his lesson (to say the least) because before he made his controversial comments, he believed he was untouchable and thought that he earned the right to say whatever popped into his head. After all, up to that point of his political career he earned a good track record as a former Chief of the Assembly of First nations, FSIN,(Organizations that he helped build from the ground up), an ambassador to the United Nations, and as such received the prestigious award of The Order of Canada, further he had what only few Aboriginal politician had access to; the privilege to mingle within the corridors of power with high profile political power brokers due to his status at the time.

    As a consequence, many people within the establishment of the FSIN dared not speak against or disagreed with him on any issues. Indeed, he was on a “high horse” and one thing I learned from my elders is that; it is morally wrong to place our elders or any other dignitaries on a pedestal, because they are only human, and as such they are capable of making mistakes like any other fellow humans among us. Once a person or society puts people on a pedestal it is very hard to bring them down, and when they do come down; THEY COME DOWN HARD with collateral consequences.

    I agree with Chief Lawrence Joseph (FSIN), forgiveness has always been part of our traditional value system, when warranted and given in the right way (shaming the conduct, not the person). If a person humbly asks for forgiveness from his people, and has learned his/her mistake, then hope and redemption is possible for any person, there has to be. Traditionally, Aboriginal people never gave up on their people, it is a value system that we are desperately trying to revive in our communities, a customary practice that many of the senators of FSIN hold. I believe as a result of the personal nightmare that David Ahenakew has been experiencing, he MAY morph into a better person, if forgiveness is the prevailing sentiment by the people and the establishment of the FSIN. If not, then he may become a bitter racist old man with unresolved hurtful wounds that will fester and surely blame the Jews for his downfall well into his grave. But guaranteed, if forgiveness is the prevailing attitude and dignity is restored then David Ahenakew will heal and gain wisdom from this experience that he continues to endure, it is an opportunity that the FSIN senate is trying to tap into; wisdom that the FSIN and its representatives can benefit. However, in the long run he will never regain the same status that he once enjoyed before his self imposed demise; those days are gone for him.

    I believe the power of our customary practice of forgiveness is something that the culture of the dominant society does not understand in terms of its power to move the hardened to become human once more in our society, exactly what the FSIN senate is trying to do, thus the current public outrage. Unfortunately as a result of the growing outrage, allowing forgiveness a chance to prevail is not going to happen. (Unless our people stand together, including our non-Aboriginal allies)

    The dominant society that is strategically expressed by the mass media will not rest until they have exhausted the public hanging of David Ahenakew and any other INDIAN organization associated with him. My concern is that this issue is giving rise for ammunition by the status quo a license to have an open season on all Aboriginal peoples of Saskatchewan. This issue of course is causing further divisions, to an already fractured society, among the Aboriginal community, to take sides and to continue fighting amongst ourselves, to which is a tragedy in itself. Colonialism is still alive and well (Divide and Conquer)…so there you go, I just made some controversial comments. Happy hunting. 🙂

  4. caledoniawakeupcall says:

    Hi Rob,

    I like the concepts you’re bringing to the table here, but I would beg to differ on a few points.

    I would have to disagree with any notion that the outrage going on is because he’s a Native, and I just happen to have read a story today that affirms that belief. Quote courtesy of the Toronto Star.

    “The Liberal and Bloc Québécois parties say a Commons apology made by a Conservative MP for homophobic remarks uttered 16 years ago isn’t enough and called on the Prime Minister to fire him as a parliamentary secretary.”

    Now in that case it’s not the media but members of Government who are crying foul, but the media is very happy to run with the story and they’ll find every angle they can to keep it alive.

    You suggest that Mr. Ahenakew be given a second chance on the basis of asking forgiveness from the First Nations community, but what about the Jewish community whom he called a disease?

    Further to that, Chief Marcel Head saying “The way he portrays himself hasn’t given me anything to see that he has changed at all” does not suggest that he has shown remorse and asked forgiveness from even First Nations let alone anyone Jewish.

    Where you and I agree entirely is that we are all entitled to make mistakes, and should all be equally entitled to a second chance in life, but I think the man needs to make ammends before forgiveness can be considered.

    I don’t share your divide and conquer theory sir, but I do thank you for your comment.

  5. Rob says:

    I don’t disagree with you, I wrote the above statement before Ahenakew declined his reinstatement. My original intent is not so much as to defend David Ahenakew, but to appeal to the sensibilities of the media because of the seriousness of the situation in terms of long term consequences of all Aboriginal peoples. Because Aboriginal politicians have worked hard in their political lobbying to get to where we are today, and we still have a long ways to go.

    There is racism and bigotry out there, it’s a reality that many of our Aboriginal peoples confront on a daily basis. In my observation of the explosiveness of this issue, many racist bigots have taken advantage of the situation to pounce on all Aboriginal peoples. I’m a First nations from Saskatchewan, and it disturbs me how toxic this issue has been to the detriment of all Aboriginal peoples, in terms of the current Conservative Government finding justification in their hidden policy agenda on Aboriginal peoples, hence their threat to pull funding transfers dollars to our First Nations people. If the Government can do that, then the concept of Aboriginal self-determination and self-governance may be subverted by this Government, and this is coming from a minority Government, imagine if they succeed in getting a majority Government. (I shudder when I think about it) I’m glad Ahenakew stepped down, he did the right thing for his people.

  6. Rob says:

    In terms of the “divide and conquer” theory, there is evidence that the nation state has had a hidden agenda of a long term termination policy of First Nations treaty rights and the abolishment of reserve lands. For example such evidence can be found in the technical legal formulas in the funding transfer agreements to First nations Bands and section six of the Indian Act, as Bill C-31 was deliberately designed that by the third generation henceforth will no longer be Treaty status Indians. At the same time, it is not in the best interest of the Nation state for First nations people to become organized politically, socially, and economically, because Indian affairs is an annual ten billion dollar industry, in terms of maintaining the bureaucracy of INAC, transfer payments, health care, Criminal Justice system, etc. The purpose of bare minimum transfer payments to bands is continue the social pathology of poverty and its associated addictions and family violence thereby keeping us divided to fight amongst ourselves, at the same time to encourage continued exodus of band members off reserve into urbanization to become Provincial responsibility.

  7. caledoniawakeupcall says:

    I do believe he did the right thing for everyone, but I would suggest the media attention had alot to do with his decision.

    One thing I have learned in the last 2 years Rob is that the media doesn’t have any sensibilities, only headlines.

    I agree there is racism and bigotry out there and Caledonia has become a flash point for it, but not just against Native people sir. A small but intensely determined group have given a bad name to Native people with their actions and there will be some who can’t see past that, but it would be helpful if more Native leaders stepped forward to condemn the violence and lawlessness.

    I can honestly say that I have never seen a more racist group of human beings in my life than those who occupy the Douglas Creek Estates.

    I truly can’t comment on what you have said about Aboriginal self-governance and the Harper government because I simply don’t know enough about those issues to do so.


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