B.C. official under fire for Native remarks
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 9, 2003
| A NATIVE PROBLEM? Students use B.C. official as part of anti-drinking and driving campaign.|
British Columbia's top law enforcement minister faced a barrage of criticism on Tuesday for remarks Native leaders and some government officials characterized as racist and insensitive.
The Union of B.C. Chiefs said it was "shocked and outraged" and the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations responded just as strongly to the controversy. But B.C. solicitor general Rich Coleman said he didn't mean to offend anyone.
"Certainly it wasn't my intention to slur anybody," Coleman told reporters yesterday. "If anybody felt that way, I sincerely apologize for it."
At issue is Coleman's reaction to an anti-drinking and driving campaign at the University of Saskatchewan. Student leaders created posters featuring the mug shots of B.C. premier Gordon Campbell, who was recently arrested in Hawaii and fined for driving under the influence of alcohol.
The posters -- "Don't pull a Gordon, Drive safe" -- made no reference to Native people or alcohol problems in the Aboriginal community. But Coleman's comments did.
"You could find all kinds of issues within their significant Aboriginal community that they could be focusing on," Coleman said on Monday while cameras were rolling. He mentioned fetal alcohol syndrome as one problem.
Native leaders said the connection was inappropriate.
"The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is shocked and outraged that the solicitor general of British Columbia would stoop to making obvious racist comments toward First Nations people in Saskatchewan in a self-serving effort to deflect attention away from the premier of British Columbia and his alcohol problems," said president Stewart Phillip.
"It's discouraging in the sense there are still high profile people in this country who stereotype First Nations people as drunks," Lawrence Joseph, vice-chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said on CBC TV.
Saskatchewan's top leader, premier Lorne Calvert, called the remarks "unfortunate." And Eldon Lautermilce, the province's Aboriginal affairs minister, said they were insensitive.
This isn't the first time B.C.'s Liberal Party leadership has run into problems in the Aboriginal community. Last year, the government held a controversial voter referendum on the ongoing treaty negotiations with First Nations. While non-binding, the questions appeared to be tipped against recognizing Native rights.
Union of B.C. Chiefs - http://www.ubcic.bc.ca
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations - http://www.fsin.ca
B.C. Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General - http://www.gov.bc.ca/pssg