Native leader under fire

Canadian Press, Dec. 12, 2002

REGINA (CP) – The Saskatchewan government asked the RCMP on Monday to investigate possible hate charges against a former chief of the Assembly of First Nations for suggesting the Nazis were justified in trying to rid the world of Jews. David Ahenakew made the comments in a profanity-laced, anti-Semitic interview to a reporter last week. He said the Nazis “were trying to clean up the world” and attacked Jewish ownership of corporate interests.

Saskatchewan Justice Minister Chris Axworthy said it is important the government indicate the seriousness with which it is taking the matter.

“This is the most outrageous set of phrases and views expressed in our province in public for a very long time,” Axworthy said.

Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert called the comments offensive and inappropriate.

“These views expressed by Mr. Ahenakew do not represent the views of Saskatchewan people. They do not represent the views of First Nations people in our province,” Calvert said.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Brian Jones said he anticipated the government’s request would be forwarded to the major crimes unit where it would be treated like any other complaint.

“They are entitled to the same level of service as an individual who walks up to the front counter at one of our detachments and files a complaint,” he said.

Perry Bellegarde, chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, said he would be recommending Ahenakew be removed as chairman of the organization’s senate as a first step.

“We’re going to be asking him to clarify his statements,” the chief said.

The federation’s executive and senate planned to meet Tuesday in Saskatoon to discuss the possibilities. Ahenakew was suspended Monday as a board member of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College.

Bellegarde said initial attempts to have Ahenakew clarify what he said were unsuccessful.

“He’s not willing to correct or clarify his statements, so I have to do what I have to do, because we’ve always been talking about peaceful coexistence and respect for all nations and all religions . . . this flies in the face of that and is not acceptable.”

Ahenakew could not be reached for comment Monday but scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning.

During a speech Friday, Ahenakew complained about bigotry in Canadian society, accused the media of creating racial conflict and continually referred to non-aboriginal Canadians as “immigrants.”

Approached by a journalist to clarify his comments on Jews and the Second World War, he said he agreed with his German friends. When asked how he could justify the Holocaust, Ahenakew said: “How do you get rid of a disease like that, that’s going to take over, that’s going to dominate?”

“The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war,” Ahenakew told the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

“That’s how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn’t take over Germany or Europe.

“That’s why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world. And look what they’re doing. They’re killing people in Arab countries.”

In Ottawa, the Assembly of First Nations headquarters received dozens of calls and e-mails Monday about Ahenakew’s comments – including three bomb threats.

“We’re very concerned,” national chief Matthew Coon Come told reporters.

Coon Come called Ahenakew’s comments ignorant and said he should step down from his position as an FSIN senator.

“I think our opponents of the First Nations could exploit this . . . We could find ourselves being alienated from our supporters that believe in First Nations’ rights and believe in First Nation aspirations, especially within the Jewish community,” Coon Come said.

Ahenakew was FSIN chief from 1968 to 1978 and AFN chief from 1982 to 1985. He was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1978 for his work as a member of a United Nations committee and of the World Indigenous Peoples Council, as well as for years of service to Indians and Metis in Saskatchewan.

Ahenakew’s comments drew criticism from all corners.

The Canadian Jewish Congress called on his fellow Order of Canada members to speak out against him and pressure the Governor General to revoke his membership in the order.

“This was some of the worst, most vitriolic hatred that I’ve ever heard anyone say coming from a Canadian,” said Keith Landy, the congress’s national president.

“It might be easy under other circumstances to dismiss this as aberrant behaviour from someone who one could be dismissive of, but he clearly has obtained a level of leadership importance within the native community that they can’t simply dismiss it. There needs to be some consequences to his actions.”

Prime Minister Jean Chretien offered a brief comment after he signed the Kyoto protocol in Ottawa.

“I think such words are not acceptable in Canadian society,” he said.

Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper said he hoped an apology or retraction would be forthcoming from Ahenakew.

Conservative Leader Joe Clark said he was appalled by the comments.

Even Jim Pankiw, an Independent member of Parliament who has himself been criticized for some of his race-related statements, waded in.

“Ahenakew’s comments make it clear that the self-serving cries of racism levelled by Indian lobbyists and their supporters against advocates of equality are hollow and designed to intimidate and silence those who question their hidden agenda,” Pankiw said.

“Indian lobbyists and supporters of race-based rights and privileges are nothing more than modern-day Klansmen.”

Ahenakew, 68, said he learned about the Second World War and the Holocaust while serving with the army in Germany in the 1950s and in Egypt in 1964.

“All I know is what the Germans told me. Of course I believe them. I saw the Jews kill people in Egypt when I was there. The Palestinians, Arabs. I saw them (Israel) . . . dominate everything.”

Membership in the Order of Canada can be terminated by the Governor General.

In the 36-year history of the Order of Canada, only one has been revoked – former hockey czar Alan Eagleson was stripped of the order after he was convicted of fraud.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday December 17, 2002.
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