Val d’Or minor hockey coach Yvanhoé Bélisle has been suspended for two games for making racist comments against Native youth.
The punishment drew an outcry from Crees who said it’s not enough. Chief Bosum said the decision sends a message that racism is okay. “I think it’s a joke. I think it’s a big joke. This is ridiculous,” he said.
“I thought they would at least give him the maximum for this type of racist remarks (i.e. expulsion). They were very deliberate. You only use the word Cawich when referring to Native people,” said the chief.
“It’s as if it’s no big deal. Two games. What does that tell you? It doesn’t give any message. It tells you that this committee doesn’t find it serious enough for an adult to attack a youth.”
The punishment was handed down at a Feb. 25 hearing of the disciplinary committee of the Bantam CC League of Abitibi-Témiscamingue. Statements at the hearing, held in Val d’Or, were made by Bélisle, Chief Abel Bosum, father of one of the players targeted by Bélisle, and officials of the Chibougamau-Chapais Bantam CC team.
Bélisle made the racist remarks after a heated game between the Val d’Or and Chibougamau-Chapais teams before Christmas. According to Jerry Poirier, manager of the Chibougamau-Chapais team, Bélisle screamed: “F**ingsavages (Cawich). I’m going to find some AA players and we will destroy the f**ing savages (Cawich).”
In an interview, Bélisle offered a slightly different version of his remarks. “Your guy is a f**ing savage,” he claims to have said. He denies the statement was racist or targeted at any player, Native or non-Native.
Louis Bigué, chair of the disciplinary committee, said the remarks are unacceptable and that the two-week suspension is just a “partial decision.” More disciplinary measures will be announced in a week.
“It’s obvious that the disciplinary committee does not share the statements at all. At all,” emphasized Bigué. “We do not accept them at all.”
Gérald MacDonald, president of the Bantam CC League, initiated disciplinary hearings only after receiving an angry letter about the incident from Chief Bosum. “At first, I didn’t think it was so grave,” he said. The letter changed his mind. It included a threat that Cree chiefs may consider moving the Cree hockey tournaments out of Val d’Or if nothing were done about Bélisle.
Bosum said the two tournaments each pump $3 to $4 million into Val d’Or’s economy, and that the two-game suspension will make Crees wonder if they are appreciated in the city. “Definitely, I think there’s going to have to be some very serious thinking by the Crees and how they conduct their business in the region. It’s like taking your money and spitting in your face,” he said.
After seeing Bosum’s letter, Val d’Or Mayor Ronald Tétrault sent a letter to the chief, Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come and The Nation condemning Bélisle’s remarks (see. Page 6).