By Mary Agnes Welch
The Laurie River Lodge sparked a Facebook firestorm Wednesday when part of its travel guide to fly-in fishermen and hunters was widely shared online, especially among members of the nearby Pukatawagan band.
"We use Cree Indian guides from the town of Pukatawagon (sic) in northern Manitoba. They are wonderful people and fun to fish with however, like all Native North Americans, they have a basic intolerance for alcohol," wrote owner Brent Fleck. "Please do not give my guides alcohol under any circumstances. This is rarely a problem and by telling you in advance I hope to avoid it altogether.
In response, Dumas released a statement today calling the passage offensive and racist and demanding an apology from the lodge’s owners.
"None of the above statements or implications about our people are true." wrote Dumas in a letter to the lodge. "The comments are racist and negative stereotypes which only serve to promote or incite hatred against our people. There is no scientific basis for your claim that Cree people have an intolerance for alcohol, nor is there any basis for alleging that our Cree people would drink while working or that they pose a risk to the public."
Brochure by Laurie River Lodge in Manitoba tells lodge visitors not to give alcohol to Cree guides
Chief Arlen Dumas says statements in the brochure for the Laurie River Lodge, which hires locals from the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, are unacceptable.
“The statements are so outrageous,” said Chief Dumas. “Not only does he [the lodge owners] offend the very people that provide him his livelihood … he insults all indigenous people in North America.”
A letter from Dumas to Laurie River Lodge owners Brent and Erin Fleck that's titled “Racist and Discriminatory Content in your Promotional Brochure” reprimands them for “racist stereotypes” in the brochure.
Drunk Indian stereotype
Drunk Indian myth surfaces
Lodge guide tells tourists aboriginals can't tolerate alcohol
By Mary Agnes Welch
Local and national aboriginal leaders, many of whom weighed in online, say it's a myth perpetuated even by the well-meaning, one based on no science that infantilizes indigenous people.
"The tone of this program guide is not only paternalistic but disrespectful of the very people whose generosity and gifts of territory make this business possible," said University of Manitoba native studies Prof. Niigaanwewidam Sinclair. "One hopes that the owners of this lodge read up on some history and science instead of relying on outdated and ignorant falsehoods to forge relationships with their employees and neighbours."
"The idea that indigenous peoples are helpless to resist the lure of alcohol, that we are genetically weak and more susceptible to it, plays into the notion of our supposed inferiority," wrote Vowel, who is Métis from Lac Ste. Anne, Alta.
Michael Kannon, a Winnipegger and Idle No More activist, said he often hears the same kind of subtle racism disguised by a benevolent tone. Kannon grew up in Tennessee, a product of the 1960s scoop that saw aboriginal kids adopted into white families, often outside the country.
He said the same racist descriptions were used on blacks. "I saw (the) same stereotypes, verbatim," said Kannon. "It's a 'those people' phrase. Stick in indigenous, black, Muslim, whatever."
Laurie River Lodge Adventures: Watch Out for Animals and Indians?
Even international law protects people from racism and discrimination.
If morals could not guide these business owners, certainly they have an obligation to follow the law. It is no wonder why discrimination against Indigenous peoples has not subsided, given openly racist attitudes like this.
One would have thought the days of warning people against animals and Indians were over.
Chief rejects fishing lodge owner's apology over racist brochure
Brent Fleck of Laurie River Lodge in Manitoba calls offending section of brochure 'stupid'
"I wish to convey my most sincere apologizes for the wording of the section that covers alcohol to our staff members. It was written MANY, MANY years ago and should have been updated…. When I originally wrote that paragraph my intention was to ensure that there was no pressure put on our guides to consume alcohol with their guests when they were in fact responsible for the health and safety of the fishermen in their boat. After reading the paragraph in my trip planning guide I have to agree that, despite the fact that it was not intended to offend anyone, it could be taken in that context. I am in the process of removing the offending paragraph from my literature. I also would like to sincerely apologize to anyone that it may have offended."
But Dumas accused Fleck of not taking responsibility for the content in the brochure.
"If you read the statements in his apology, he doesn't actually apologize," Dumas said. "He apologizes for how wording could have been misrepresented or misunderstood."
The chief said he wants a public apology from the Flecks to all Cree people, as well as individual letters of apology to indigenous individuals who work at the lodge.
As well, Dumas said the lodge must find a way to make amends to the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.