By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
One of British Columbia’s most prominent First Nations organizations is calling on the Royal Canadian Legion to issue a formal written apology to all the families of Aboriginal veterans over a joke published by a provincial branch that described the murder of two “Indians.”
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs released a letter Friday addressed to Bob Brady, president of the Royal Canadian Legion B.C. and Yukon Command. UBCIC President Stewart Phillip says in the letter that he was “astonished” by the reaction of regional command and the local Cranbrook, B.C., Legion branch which published the “blatantly racist” joke.
“I am astonished at the Royal Canadian Legion officials at the Legion and BC/Yukon Command levels were completely dismissive and cavalier in their response to initial complaints about the offensive racist joke in their publication,” wrote Phillip. “(Royal Canadian) Legion officials maintained that the so-called joke was simply a joke and not at all a newsworthy item.”
The Cranbrook Legion branch printed 40 copies of its August newsletter containing the joke before pulling the issue following a complaint. The joke, about two hunters who separately shoot two “Indians” dead, was replaced with a publisher’s note that did not contain an apology.
The Cranbrook branch falls under the Legion’s B.C. and Yukon Command which issued “formal and sincere” apologies to the two women who initially complained about the joke. The branch has also been told to cease publishing jokes and cartoons and all branches under its jurisdiction have been ordered to vet all content before it’s published in a newsletter.
Phillip wrote that given the level of participation by Aboriginal men and women in the military during the last century in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam and in this century’s conflicts in places like Iraq and Afghanistan it would only be proper for the Legion to apologize to all Aboriginal veterans.
“In the memory of our Aboriginal veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for Canada and in the spirit of the residential school apology and Canada’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” wrote Phillip. “We demand a formal, written public apology to all the families of our Aboriginal veterans.”
Cranbrook resident Shirley Green, 77, who is of Metis and Ktunaxa heritage, issued the initial complaint to the branch. Her daughter, Joyce Green, a Regina academic, also followed up with a complaint.
“I do hope the branch of Legion in Cranbrook gets some education on what constitutes racism,” said Shirley Green, in an interview with APTN National News.
Bob Butt, spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Legion, said this week that the joke was “definitely inappropriate” and he hoped the branch would never do something like that again.
We apologize to the Aboriginal peoples for this going out,” he said. “We are extremely sorry.”
Butt, however, said that Ottawa headquarters has little control over the activities of its multitude of branches scattered across the country.
“If a branch puts something out, we will find out about it after the fact,” said Butt. “And we will apologize on behalf of the legion. We can’t apologize on behalf of the branch.”
Richard Blackwolf, president of the Canadian Aboriginal Veterans and Serving Members Association, said he’s not surprised by the issue.
“I am not surprised these things come up in the Legion,” said Blackwolf, who is about to embark on a cross-country tour to hand out Queen Jubilee Medals to veterans. “In my experience, it is not unusual for the legion.