A strange letter arrived at Polaris Canada headquarters in Winnipeg. An anonymous Chibougamau resident was writing to complain of “a problem” atthe local Polaris franchise, which was taken over by the Ouje-Bougoumou First Nation.

The resident described him/herself as a “fans” of Polaris for “a good dozen years until the Indians became the owners.” Since the people of Chibougamau are “very racist,” the letter-writer says “the best solution would maybe be to give them (the Natives) a franchise in Ouje-Bougoumou and a second one to Chibougamau.”

“I believe there is room for both in this regions, which the product Polaris was very strong,” wrote the resident in French. “I believe you should verify the number of sale of snowmobiles at this date.”

Polaris headquarters forwarded the letter to Chief Abel Bosum of Ouje-Bougoumou, who normally probably wouldn’t have given it much thought. The problem is sales at the Polaris store are in a bad slump. Is it because of racism? Bosum doesn’t know.

“We don’t know how widespread this thinking is,” he said. “It could be just one unsatisfied customer or it could be 100. We just don’t know.”

In its first year, the dealership did very well, capturing 40 per cent of the Cree market, up from 25 per cent before. This year, sales have dropped 35 per cent compared to last year.

Bosum has heard that some residents are driving all the way to St. Felicien for products that cost the same price, just because they don’t want to do business with Native people. He

remembers the fate of a gas station in Chibougamau owned by some Mistissini residents that went out of business in part because of racist sentiments.

“This was an issue when we put in the bid for the franchise. The argument was raised by the other bidders,” said Bosum. “Our business plan didn’t have a colour. It was the best one. That’s how we got it”

“I found it shocking. It’s completely racist,” said one Chibougamau businessman of the letter.

Joanne Grenon, a former president of Chibougamau’s Intercultural Committee and The Nation’s sales director, said her committee was very concerned by the letter and did some checking to see what is behind it. “No one to date has said they agree with it,” she said. “They think it’s terrible.”

Grenon found that while a small group of racist residents refuse to shop at O.J.-owned Ou J’Ai des Sports, sales are down at all three snowmobile dealerships in town. Business has suffered from a combination of no snow and a mine that closed last fall, putting 400 out of work.

Grenon noted that membership in the local snowmobile club has fallen from 800 members in January 1996 to 250 this year. “People are paying more attention to their pennies.”

Owing in part to the economic climate, competition between the city’s three snowmobile dealers hasgrown fierce, other sources said. The bidding process for the Polaris franchise was also on theaggressive side and some wonder whether ^one of the losing bidders is trying to turn people againstO.J.