Editor’s note: A firestorm has erupted over statements made by Town of Slave Lake Councillor Joy McGregor. Following is Driftpile Cree Nation’s response and two Facebook posts by McGregor.
The Chief and Council of Driftpile Cree Nation wishes to condemn and express its deep disappointment in statements made by Town of Slave Lake Councillor Joy McGregor regarding the Indigenous homeless community in and around Slave Lake.
Most troubling was Joy McGregor’s statement that “we need to stop being so nice to them, we need to stop feeding them and need to stop doing all these wonderful things” [for the Indigenous homeless] as elements in her proposed plan to “get these people home” to their “settlements” and “communities”.
Driftpile Cree Nation is of the view that neither the approach, nor the language used by Councillor McGregor are appropriate or acceptable – particularly in an era of reconciliation between First Nations and Canada.
Further, these comments reflect a gross or willful ignorance about the root causes of the problem as well as a troubling lack of will to come together to resolve these issues in partnership with First Nations.
Put simply, what is manifesting as homelessness and/or drug and alcohol addiction today is the direct result of our peoples’ forced disconnection from our land, culture and community by Canadian colonization. We are seeing the immediate impacts of the intergenerational trauma created by residential schools, the subsequent 60s Scoop, and the abuses that were continued within the child welfare system. Finally, we are seeing the pernicious effects of systemic racism and the attendant lack of equal opportunity for success in society.
We do not raise these facts to blame or finger point as that is unproductive and divisive. Rather, we raise these facts because we believe it is important that we begin with an understanding of the role colonial policies and practices have played [and continue to play] in creating the current situation and that we move forward with a shared responsibility for fixing the issues that have been created.
We are all part of a wider community in Canada and it is only by working together with a shared sense of responsibility and mutual cooperation that we can succeed in solving these complex problems. Indeed, this is precisely what reconciliation calls for.
We recognize that Treaty 8 territory suffers from a serious homelessness problem and we have a significant interest in resolving this pressing issue. To that end, Barbara Courtorielle, the Executive Director of the Slave Lake Aboriginal Friendship Centre worked diligently to rezone a provincially-owned building to be part of the solution for the homeless community. Unfortunately, on November 3, 2020 the Slave Lake Town Council rejected the rezoning proposal put forward. We are and continue to be deeply disappointed by the lack of partnership shown by the Town of Slave Lake in this regard and the us/them attitude demonstrated by the Town Council.
At this time, I am calling on our members to move away from supporting Slave Lake’s economy, 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 made by Councillor McGregor.
It is our sincere hope that the Town of Slave Lake Council will take the opportunity to reflect on this incident and this letter and extend a hand to us in partnership so that we may work together with compassion, kindness, and mutual understanding toward a resolution that will be effective rather than one rooted in intolerance, contempt and a lack of understanding. Effective solutions are to be found in the former and are rarely, if ever found in the latter.
We as First Nations People have always been resilient and will continue to move forward regardless of the opinions of those who choose to continue to speak from an uneducated manner.
We look forward to having meaningful dialogue with you to begin of what we hope is a more constructive relationship in the spirit of unity.
Chief and Council,
Driftpile Cree Nation.
Joy Kathleen McGregor posted a first response on her Facebook page on Nov. 8:
Terminology that does not discriminate against a particular group of people, that avoid bias and stereotypes, such as “THEY” or “THEM” are used to be non-discriminatory against a particular group of people. Terminology such as this avoids bias and stereotypes.
As a human being and Town Councillor, I’m still getting used to the fact that the public only sees 2 of our meetings live on social media. The weekly council meetings, and the monthly MPC meetings. As council, we are well aware of what is happening before meetings became live. This includes our initiatives and partnerships being taken on by the Town, the Homeless Coalition, as well as the Slave Lake Native Friendship Center.
With the words being heard in a partial CLIP on social media, here is the history and notes about a proposed initiative to do in place of the 8 second video clip words.
The idea was a result of the Homeless Coalition meeting and my notes of action [posted on her website] items to repot to the Committee of the Whole Council Meeting. A decision was made by all partners present to start a program like “Callingwood Cares” as also seen in my point form notes below. This is one initiative we spoke about in a public Homeless Coalition meeting which is not live on social media. This program would invite the public to donate their loonies from their carts or spare change, as an example, throughout the community in way of donation boxes. These boxes would display signs for community members, surrounding community members, and visitors educating them that by donating in this manner, it will help the unhoused population as these funds would go directly to the Slave Lake Native Friendship Center.
This would then in turn, give the unhoused population a stable, and well known place to go during the day to ensure they can receive the food and all the other nice and wonderful things the community always gives. This way, it’s a chance to give to all of “THEM”!
This should clear up any bias and stereotypes as per the opening paragraph on using inclusive language.
MY APPROACH IS MY PASSION AND MY PASSION IS TO HELP ALL!
Joy Kathleen McGregor posted a second response on her Facebook page on Nov. 9:
I acknowledge that I have upset many people by using language that was inconsiderate.
If I had the language that I now know I need to learn, I would have approached this situation completely different.
I am deeply sorry to you all and those affected by poor choice of language and the feelings you have felt since the September town council meeting.
When I decided to represent my community I did so because I wanted to be a positive influence and felt deeply connected to you all. It is in moments like these that I realize I have work to do to ensure the entire community is represented and that my role as a leader is to represent everyone.
While decisions may be made that negatively impact others and may upset the community, my responses and the way I show up will always be done so with intention and with better leadership than previously before.
What I have learned from this experience upon reflection and taking the time to form this apology is that I represent the community at large and that means taking an initiative to understand and learn in ways I have not before. It means welcoming ways to unlearn racism, to invite cultural sensitivity training, and ways of educating myself and others on what it means to be a better leader.
I will also take this experience and see where I can do better among my town council and committee members. The language I chose to use did not originate from me but I chose to use it and also did not chose to take the time in that meeting prior to town council to encourage my colleagues and peers to use better language. I will find ways to disrupt the patterns we see occurring often in our interactions, engagements, meetings, and take others on my journey to do better.
Those who know me know that I truly mean no harm but I understand you can do the best you think you are doing and still have room to grow and learn from mistakes.
While this is my home and I have been here my entire life, I know this home belongs to many and people were here before me that I need to educate myself on more to understand how this is our community and how my position of power impacts others.
I understand this letter of apology will not undo the harm and this moment speaks to bigger issues of systemic racism in our community. I leave this apology with you while I do my best to show this community that I will do everything I can do to ensure this does not happen again from a group of leaders who represent you.
Councilor Town of Slave Lake.