October 18, 2011

Manitoba chiefs seek Air Canada boycott

The protests over the incident I covered in Air Canada Memo:  Avoid Indians continue:

Manitoba chiefs boycotting Air Canada

Airline memo 'incited hatred' against aboriginals, says chiefManitoba's First Nation leaders are calling for a six-month boycott of Air Canada over the airline's controversial decision to pull its flight crews out of downtown Winnipeg hotels amid safety concerns.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said Monday that Air Canada has not apologized for an internal bulletin it sent late last month, informing pilots and flight crew personnel they would no longer be staying at the Radisson Hotel on Portage Avenue because of "questionable safety in the area."

The airline's bulletin, which was dated Sept. 23 but leaked this month, notes 1,000 "displaced" people from rural Manitoba are staying in downtown Winnipeg due to "recent environmental issues," but it was not made clear if the note was referring to residents of rural areas that were affected by flooding in the province this past spring.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said the reference to displaced people is racist because a number of those who were relocated to downtown Winnipeg come from a northern First Nation that was affected by flooding.

"Are we going to support a company that makes racist remarks against my family members, against my friends that are unwarranted, or will I fly with another carrier that's a little more socially responsible than that?" Grand Chief Derek Nepinak told CBC News.
Chiefs use no-fly tactic

By Melissa MartinThe Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs will forge ahead with a boycott of Air Canada, sending the airline deeper into hot water over a leaked internal memo.

The AMC, which represents 59 First Nations, will urge all its members and supporters to stay off Air Canada flights until next spring in the wake of the memo, which surfaced earlier this month. The memo pointed a finger at safety concerns linked to "approximately 1,000 displaced people from rural Manitoba" living in downtown hotels as a reason why Air Canada crews would no longer stay at the downtown Radisson Hotel.

Although the memo did not specify it was referring to evacuees from flooded First Nations, most observers agreed there was little doubt which group was being identified. When the memo leaked, AMC Grand Chief Derek Nepinak called it a "display of ignorance" and demanded an apology.

The AMC ordered the six-month boycott at a meeting in Brokenhead last week after agreeing that the airline had failed to respond to its concerns. "The lack of appropriate response requires more direct action to be taken by our First Nations and the public and therefore a call for the boycott is necessary," Nepinak said in a statement Monday.

"Air Canada's irresponsible remarks have created a situation where First Nation people, driven from their homes, are now being held responsible for the crime in downtown Winnipeg. It is time that business leaders realize that they have a responsibility to be good corporate citizens and be mindful of their social obligations."
Clear the airThe claims were wrong--the number of "displaced people" from flooding was far fewer than the memo inferred were creating fear and risk to crews and pilots. These people, refugees from rural flooding, are as nervous about being downtown as any other visitor. They are not the root of the problems arising from intoxication and panhandling or crime seen or perceived downtown. When the memo went public, a storm erupted and facts unravelled the airline's case. Air Canada said it was sorry if it caused anyone offence.

It was the classic non-apology. Aboriginal people in Manitoba are suitably disturbed, and demanding better. The assembly requested a meeting, which has not happened. Further, the pilots' association said its members do not fear for their safety in downtown Winnipeg.

It is time for the airline to clear the air, so to speak. It should wholeheartedly, finally, apologize and explain its concerns publicly to a community still perplexed.
Comment:  For more on the "savage Indian" stereotype, see Murdering Indian in Ringer and Stereotypes Justified "Extreme Measures."

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