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‘Racist’ election ad sparks outrage

Thursday June 26, 2014
This election ad by Libertarian candidate Tamara Johnson published in a Thunder Bay newspaper on June 11 was deemed ‘racist’ by First Nations people and leaders, and the Thunder Bay mayor.

An election ad printed by local Libertarian party candidate Tamara Johnson in a Thunder Bay newspaper has sparked outrage from numerous First Nations leaders and groups who deem the contents of the ad to be racist.

The full-page colour ad, published in the June 10 edition of the Chronicle Journal by Johnson, featured statements such as “no group of people are ‘entitled’ to handouts,” “Crown lands are public lands. Not native lands,” and “help me stop the ‘gravy train.’”

The ad came the day before the provincial election in which Johnson was a candidate for the Ontario Libertarian Party in the Thunder Bay Superior-North riding.

Fort William First Nation Chief Georjann Morriseau said that she was appalled that the Chronicle Journal would publish an ad such as Johnson’s in the paper.

“Those are the types of hate messages we are trying to eliminate,” Morriseau said of the content in the ad.

Morriseau said that what the Ontario Libertarian Party is doing through Johnson’s campaign rhetoric is “to scapegoat First Nations peoples for just about any problems faced by non-First Nations communities in northwestern Ontario.”

The ad prompted Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs to hold a press conference two days after the ad was published.

“The city of Thunder Bay categorically, unequivocally, rejects her damaging statements. We have zero tolerance for racism or hate-biased attitudes,” Hobbes said.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Harvey Yesno and Deputy Chief Alvin Fiddler, as well as representatives from the Anti-Racism Advisory Committee, the Aboriginal Liaison Strategy, and the Respect Initiative, were also on hand to address the ad and the issue of racism in the city of Thunder Bay.

NAN Grand Chief Harvey Yesno said that the statements made by Johnson are “outrageous and disparaging against First Nations and our treaty rights.”

“All citizens have the right to express their opinions, but we strongly disagree with the dissemination of information that is factually incorrect and appears to be racially motivated,” Yesno said.

Yesno said that the statements in the ad by Johnson are having a damaging effect on the efforts of area First Nations to develop positive relationships within the community.

“And we are disappointed that a community newspaper would seek to profit by publishing them,” Yesno said.

Clint Harris, the publisher and general manager of the Chronicle Journal, addressed the issue of the ad in a letter on the front page of the June 12 edition of the paper.

“We view the ad as a position on government policy and practice towards (A)boriginal people,” Harris wrote. “A position that, while it will offend some, is being offered for consideration by thousands of voters.”

Harris wrote that different perspectives and priorities are why some people will be upset by some of the things they see in the paper, but also wrote that getting upset is sometimes good.

“Progress in Canada’s (A)boriginal history has often sprung from people reacting to questionable ideas, practices, and policies, and opposing them until they were changed,” Harris wrote.

He stated that it was an election ad about Johnson’s views on government policy and practice, and “while she is referring to a certain race, she is doing so in order to let voters know her position on policy and practice with respect to the relationship between government and that community.”

Harris also stated that it was important that candidates are given the opportunity to reveal their ideas to voters.

It is not the first time Johnson has drawn attention for her views on First Nations rights.

Following the fire that damaged the CN Rail bridge that links Fort William First Nation to Thunder Bay, Johnson said businesses on the reserve had an “unfair advantage” over businesses in the city due to its tax exemptions.

The comments led to her fallout with the PC party, who dropped Johnson as a candidate. She continued to voice her opinions on First Nations issues through social media.

In response to the outrage over her ad, Johnson “stands by” its message and contents.

Yesno and Morriseau both expressed concerns over what Johnson’s “ideas” would mean to the safety of the First Nations people in Thunder Bay.

Yesno said that NAN is especially concerned that the consequences of such statements in the ad and the hatred they inspire will jeopardize the safety of First Nations youth in and around the community, including students from remote communities.

Morriseau said “this uncalled for attack” will only lead to more racial violence directed at First Nations people living in and around Thunder Bay as more people will feel more justified in scapegoating Aboriginal people.

Johnson received 922 votes in the provincial election.

“900 votes – it shows there’s an appetite for this kind of rhetoric,” Morriseau said.

After the press conference, NAN Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said that he was happy to hear the mayor say that there is no room for racism in this city.

Fiddler said that when he saw the ad he thought of it as “an attack on our children.”

“The more I read it, the more I thought about it I thought as a direct attack on our kids, on my parents, on my family. That’s so wrong on so many different levels. We need to do more to educate people like Tamara Johnson to make them understand what a treaty is all about, the real history of this country.”

Fiddler said that there needs to be more of an effort on people to understand the parts of history that they did not learn in the school like residential school system and treaty relationships.

“I think the system has failed them also for them to have these ignorant views,” Fiddler said.

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