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Anti-racism rally held at Thunder Bay newspaper office

Thursday July 10, 2014
Anti-racism rally held at Thunder Bay newspaper office

In response to a controversial ad published in the Chronicle Journal in Thunder Bay, a group of nearly 30 people took part in an anti-racism rally held outside the newspaper’s office building on June 26.

“It bothered me quite a bit when I heard about what was written in the paper,” said former Thunder Bay resident John Bell Fox.

The Ontario Libertarian ad that appeared in June 10 edition of The Chronicle Journal contained statements like “no group of people are owed a “debt” by today’s tax payers” and encouraged “tax payers” to “stop this doctrine of entitlement.”

After the election, a press conference was held by the city of Thunder Bay and Fort William First Nation to address the issue of racism and the ad, which many said contained damaging and false statements about Aboriginal people.

Fox made the trip up to Thunder Bay to take part in the rally, which he referred to as a grassroots event.

He said he grew up in Thunder Bay, and that he cherished the community and the people.

“That’s why I traveled from Peterborough to be a part of this,” Fox said.

He explained that he went on a tour of his old haunts, including the Picton Street area in the city to speak to its residents.

“I did a tour there yesterday, I talked to our people that are affected by what’s going on in this community and rest assured our people are scared,” Fox said. “Our people are scared of what has escalated in the last little while.”

NAN Grand Chief Harvey 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 stated after the ad was published.

The June 26 rally was attended by both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the city.

Thunder Bay resident Chuck Lucy Finale said that he heard of the rally through a friend on Facebook.

Finale is a member of the Thunder Bay Revolutionary Network, and said that the group had been keeping tabs on the election. When the Johnson ad appeared in the paper, Finale said he wasn’t surprised but “disappointed in how blatant the racism was” in the ad.

He said he thought the event was very positive.

“I know ahead of time many people were concerned it would be all about bashing one person, but the actual rhetoric of the rally was really positive. It was about bringing everyone together and less about the ad.”

Ontario Regional Chief Stan Beardy was also present at the rally. Beardy was one of many speakers, which included former Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins and Chronicle Journal publisher Clint Harris.

“None of the people are born to hate, none of us are born to hate. This is a learned behaviour that’s learned at home, with the community, and our environment,” Beardy said.

Beardy explained that he had met with Harris to discuss what could be done to address the issue of racism in the city, and how the Chronicle Journal could help.

“I had a good discussion with (Harris),” Beardy said.

He explained that they talked about creating space in The Chronicle Journal for the Aboriginal community and their stories, and also share what is being done by Aboriginal people to contribute to the well-being of Canada as a whole.

“He made an agreement that space will be made for us as First Nations people where we can share our stories with the general public,” Beardy said.

Harris thanked the group for attending the rally, calling it an “important day when we can battle racism and hatred together.”

“As Stan mentioned, we have met and I have met with other leaders as well,” Harris said. “We have a commitment to support the entire community. We are the entire community together.”
Harris said that The Chronicle Journal will do everything they can do help fight racism and support the Aboriginal community.

“That’s our plan, to work together and help in any way we can,” Harris said to an applauding group.

Peter Collins said that it is important to work together to build positive relationships between all people for the youth.

“Our children walk the streets. We need to build a healthy lifestyle for our kids,” Collins said.

Collins encouraged everyone to understand and read the treaties. He said that the treaties were not signed to make Aboriginal people a “special interest group.”

“Understand what it means, and what it meant to all people, not just First Nations but to all of us,” he said.

Beardy expressed his wishes for the history of Aboriginal people in Canada to be taught in schools.

“The way to begin to deal with the hatred we are talking about, there has to be education with all people. The best way to do that is to introduce the history of Canada’s First Nations people in the curriculum.”

Beardy said that it is important to have First Nations stories in The Chronicle Journal to help educate the general public.

“We need to get space with The Chronicle Journal to make sure that our stories as First Nations people are published, our successes our challenges, so that it educates the general public because racism comes out because of a lack of information and outright ignorance.”

Meanwhile, a group of concerned citizens is calling for advertisers to boycott the Chronicle Journal.

The Biskaabiiyang Collective (BC), composed of six people, published an open letter online to the sponsors of The Chronicle Journal newspaper calling for ad support of the publication to be pulled.

Willow Blasizzo, BC member, told Wawatay News that the ad borders the line between a person’s right to freedom of speech and hate speech towards Indigenous peoples.

“This campaign ad suggests that the treaties, which Canada was founded on, has made Indigenous peoples ‘Super-Citizens.’ This demonstrates the unfortunate reality that there is a population, albeit a small one, that has little to no real education or regard for the important to recognize, honour, and respect each other as treaty people, which we all are,” Blasizzo said.

The letter, which is signed by BC members Blasizzo, Debbie Sault, Jana-Rae Yerxa, Collin Graham, Adam Barker, and Damien Lee, states that the ad by OLP candidate Johnson has “demonized Indigenous peoples, both directly or in-directly, as leaches benefitting unfairly from the Canadian tax system.”

“As such, the Chronicle Journal is serving to legitimize hate towards Indigenous peoples and to spread misinformation about First Nations, our treaties and our relationships with Canadians,” reads the letter.

BC made two requests of the 34 businesses and organizations that the letter was sent to.

The first request is that financial support is pulled from paper for what they deem as “uncritical publishing of what is clearly anti-Indigenous hate speech.”

The second request is that if no action is taken by the 34 businesses or organizations that it be explained publicly “how you reconcile taking money from Indigenous peoples, only then to fund anti-Indigenous sentiments in the public forum through the Chronicle Journal.”

Damien Lee, BC member, said that when he first saw the ad, he was surprised and viewed it as an attack.

“I was surprised at how brazen it was, with how brazen she (Johnson) was going to be with her racism,” Lee said. “I mean, to put that in the paper in an area that’s Nishnawbe territory and a lot of Nishnawbe are going to be exposed to it, I view it as an attack.”

Lee explained that the BC opted to write a letter to the sponsors of the paper instead of seeking an apology.

Lee said that they wanted to first alert the sponsors and advertisers of what happened, and to see if they were willing to detract or cease advertising or complain to the paper in hopes that it would put them in a place where they would have to change their behaviour.

In a letter on the front page of the Chronicle Journal, Harris said the paper had an obligation to run the ad to let voters know Johnson’s views on Aboriginal policy.

“Campaign advertising tends to present facts through the filter of a candidate or party’s bias. Voters can see that for what it is and act accordingly,” the letter from Harris reads.

Harris stresses that they at the paper worry about crossing lines when it comes to potentially offensive material, but that there is a balance that has to be maintained in the need to foster open discussion, especially in an election.

In response to Harris’ letter, Lee thinks that the paper “misses the point.”

“They don’t have a duty to perpetuate racism. They don’t have a duty to just publish anything that shows up. Would they publish a full-page ad from the KKK?” Lee said.

“Racism in Thunder Bay has become so normal that the main paper can publish something like that ad and then turn around and say “well it’s our duty” - that to me just demonstrates how safe Thunder Bay is for racism,” Lee said.

Blasizzo is also concerned about the “unsafe environment” that has now intensified for Indigenous peoples living in Thunder Bay.

She stated that it is imperative that the impact of such a stereotypical, negative and factually incorrect message like Johnson’s ad has on a city that already struggles with a strained and damaged relationship with Nishnawbe people is addressed.

“It’s not acceptable, it’s harmful,” Blasizzo said.

Blasizzo said that the paper’s defense of their decision to publish the ad is “a clear indication that there’s a need to unpack and dissect the racism that is manifesting.”

“This is an objective of the Biskaabiiyang Collective through coordinating facilitated teach-ins in our community,” she said.

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