One day David Ahenakew was a respected Elder with a distinguished record. He served with the Canadian Army in WWII. He was a founder of the National Indian Brotherhood, a chief of the Assembly of First Nations. He received a honourary degree and the Order of Canada. He was a senator of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indians.
Unfortunately he was also a racist. Many will tell you the things he had seen growing up. The residential school system, the sixties scoop, the sterilization of Indian women and other genocidal practices of the Canadian and provincial governments. They will tell you of the racism he experienced and his grandson experiences and how it affected him.
As a victim of racism himself, it is surprising that Ahenakew would praise Hitler and say he did the right thing by frying six million of the Jewish people in a speech filled with swearwords.
At that moment he stopped being a respected Elder. At that moment all his accomplishments became smoke to be taken by the wind and forgotten. He does not deserve to keep his honourary degree. He does not deserve to keep his Order of Canada. He deserves nothing but scorn and ostracization as a result of his actions.
Indeed many Native leaders reacted with speed to distance themselves from Ahenakew’s remarks. National Grand Matthew Coon Come found the remarks to be insulting. Chief Coon Come said “What he said was very harmful. His ignorance, totally unacceptable.”
Grand Chief Ted Moses in a press release said, “Silence is not an option. Aboriginal People must speak out and denounce the statements made by David Ahenakew.” He is right. Moses also went on to say that the Jewish community has been involved in struggles to defend human rights and some of those struggles have included indigenous communities. “We are extremely grateful for this assistance,” said Moses. Moses also stated that the Native Peoples have had to deal with racism and Crees cannot accept this within our communities.
Some of you may have seen David Ahenakew on television sobbing as he apologized for his remarks. He said, “I am ashamed and truly sorry for my conduct.” Ahenakew extended his apologies to the Jewish community and said, “I am truly sorry for the pain I have caused you.” It is too little and late. The hate-filled words have flown and the seeds of those words have been planted. Who know what the repercussions of Ahenakew’s statements will finally bring to the Aboriginal world? Will we see needed funding sources dry up in light of this? One can only guess.
Should David Ahenakew be charged with a hate crime? Most probably. It was a very public statement. I for one though would be interested to see what the sentence would be. Will it be the same as the Laval rock throwers who stoned Mohawk women, children and Elders? I would be interested in seeing if the law does indeed treat all persons equally regardless of race or creed. But nevertheless something must be done to ensure that racism is totally unacceptable regardless of who promotes it.