Firestorm erupts over councillor’s comments

Joe McWilliams
For South Peace News

The big story on everyone’s minds last week in and around Slave Lake was racism.

Harsh comments by a frustrated Slave Lake town councillor on the subject of homeless people prompted a reaction from Driftpile First Nation Chief Dwayne Laboucan. He called for a boycott of Slave Lake in a letter sent to the Town and to media outlets near and far.

Driftpile Cree Nation wrote the following alluding to Joy McGregor’s comments:

“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’” the band wrote.

“At this time, I am calling on our members to move away from supporting Slave Lake’s economy,” he 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 [Joy] 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.

McGregor’s remarks were certainly inappropriate, as she acknowledged in an apology on social media, which she repeated at council’s Nov. 11 meeting.

The apology 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.

“We want to work together,” he said at the Nov. 11 meeting.

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.

Sawridge First Nation Chief Roland Twinn commented in a story in Windspeaker, saying he found Warman’s explanation of the Sept. 8 incident [and his non-response to it] “a little weak.”

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,” he said, adding that the accord speaks of making the region better, “and we want to be part of that.”

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

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