By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
Pop star Justin Bieber is facing an online backlash after claiming in a Rolling Stone article he could get free gas in Canada because he’s part “Indian” or “Inuit.”
“I’m actually part Indian. I think Inuit or something. I’m enough percent that in Canada I can get free gas,” Bieber told Rolling Stone, which features him on the cover of their August edition with the headline: Hot, Ready and Legal.
“Omfg Justin Bieber!! Wow. I didn’t like him already, now this makes me so angry!!” wrote Kat Partridge, on APTN National News’ Facebook page.
“WTF man…what an arse…like really,” wrote Ray Hudson.
“Can someone ask him where all the free is? I would like to know! Lol,” wrote Shevon Maggie.
“Well wow. First off it’s not free gas and second, the boy doesn’t know that status cards are only for status First Nations. Maybe he’ll change his heritage next month,” wrote Brandy Franklin.
Ellen Gabriel, who recently ran for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, also jumped in the fray, calling on Bieber to apologize and urged her online supporters to Tweet the young pop star.
“I Tweeted young Mr. Bieber today to have him apologize to all Aboriginal peoples for his ill-informed comments,” wrote Gabriel, who rose to prominence as a calming voice during the 1990 Oka crisis which put her home community of Kanesatake under the international spotlight. “(It) just promotes another kind of stereotype which we all know are based on myth and racism.”
Cree-Metis hip hop artist Joey Stylez tried to spy the silver lining in the controversy saying Bieber’s comments reflected a wider pop cultural trend that seemed to equate Indigenous culture with cool.
“It’s also kind of cool at the same time. Everyone is associating being hip and cool with being Native American right now. Johnny Depp just got adopted by a tribe down south,” said Stylez, in a phone interview from Saskatoon. “I think we’re being recognized in pop culture as the ones with the most swag.”
But if Bieber really believed he has Indigenous heritage, he should also realize it comes with responsibility, said Stylez.
“If you are Native American you should be doing other stuff like going back to the reserves where there are Third World conditions and taking the bad stuff, not only the cool stuff,” said Stylez, who is working on a new album and short film both titled Feather and Rosary. “I think it’s inappropriate how he said it. He could have said it better and known actually what he’s talking about.”
Ojibway-Metis comedian Ryan McMahon said he understood the brouhaha over Bieber, but he didn’t think it was worth the effort to call the pop star out.
“I know there are a lot of people waging online war against Bieber, inviting him to the communities to come and see the poverty,” said McMahon, who was about to board a plane in Winnipeg for Montreal where he will be performing this week as part of the Just for Laughs festival.
“When things like this happen, we always react and maybe we could have some type of message sent, a bulletin sent, maybe from the AFN saying his comments come from a place of ignorance…but to me, this one is not worth it.”
McMahon said it’s more fruitful for “young talented and energetic” Indigenous people to focus their energies internally, rather than taking on a pop star sitting in the clouds.
“The reality is our struggles are on the ground and I always think that is where our focus should go first,” said McMahon. “The only joke I wrote about was to show you how shitty our Canadian high school system is, of which he is a product… Yup, there is the Canadian education system for you.”