Alleged racist comments prompt four-day boycott

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

There’s no telling how much the four-day boycott of Slave Lake by Driftpile Cree Nation hurt local businesses. But it certainly got a lot of attention, which was perhaps the point.

Announced on Nov. 8 by Driftpile Chief Dwayne Laboucan, it was a reaction to harsh comments by a frustrated Slave Lake town councillor on the subject of homeless people.

“At this time, I am calling on our members to move away from supporting Slave Lake’s economy,” Laboucan said. “Similarly, we will not be making any further capital expenditures in Slave Lake until such time as we receive a public apology for the callous, cruel and racist comments by councillor McGregor.”

Whether those comments were actually racist or not became secondary to the developing story, as a firestorm of social (and other) media reaction blew up. Joy McGregor’s remarks were certainly inappropriate and unhelpful, as she acknowledged in an apology on social media, which she repeated at council’s Nov. 11 meeting (see more on Page 10). It was reinforced by mayor Tyler Warman, who accepted his responsibility for being part of the problem.

Warman had spent the previous couple of days, he said, reaching out to First Nations leaders. That effort would continue, he promised.

And it did continue. Warman spent much of Thursday in Driftpile, talking with chief and council.

The result of that conversation – described as “difficult, but ultimately productive,” in a Nov. 13 Driftpile news release, was a lifting of the boycott.

As noted, the boycott announcement on Nov. 8 drew a lot of reaction. It included Edmonton news media peppering Warman with questions about racism in a Nov. 9 news conference. It showed up in news stories near and far.

Other community leaders chimed in over the subsequent days.

One was Whitefish First Nation Chief Albert Thunder. He was not recommending participation in any boycott, he said in a social media video post, although he considered McGregor’s remarks inappropriate.

“Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone,” Thunder said, quoting the famous passage from the Gospel of John.

Sawridge First Nation Chief Roland Twinn commented in a story in Windspeaker, saying the found Warman’s explanation of the Sept. 8 incident (and his non-response to it) “a little weak.” However, the Sawridge council hadn’t discussed joining a boycott, he said.

The town and Sawridge have a ‘friendship accord,’ which Warman referred to in his remarks at last week’s council meeting. So did Twinn in his comments to Windspeaker.

“We want to be part of a solution in the region.”

Marcel Auger, the reeve of the M.D. of Opportunity, weighed in with a statement on Nov. 11. In it, he deplored McGregor’s comments and the apparent acceptance of them by her council colleagues. Auger’s letter concludes with an invitation to mayor and council of Slave Lake to meet “to discuss regional issues and potential solutions.”

Town of High Prairie council even got into the act, deciding (although not unanimously) to send a letter deploring McGregor’s remarks.

Somewhat lost in all the outcry was the plight of the homeless themselves. Efforts at emergency shelter continue – let by the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre.

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