Grand chiefs Terrance Nelson of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, left, Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, and David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak speak to reporters on Tuesday. (Bouchra Ouatik/Radio-Canada)
Nov 04, 2014 – Updated Nov 04, 2014 at 6:45pm
Top aboriginal leaders want public to cancel subscriptions and remove advertising from Winnipeg Sun
Manitoba’s top aboriginal leaders are calling for a boycott of the Winnipeg Sun, claiming the newspaper and its parent organization, Sun Media, discriminate against indigenous people.
The boycott was announced on Tuesday by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents First Nations in the province’s North.
The organizations’ grand chiefs accuse the Winnipeg Sun of “discriminatory reporting and biased editorial against indigenous peoples,” citing the recent coverage of the death of Tina Fontaine, a 15-year-old girl whose body was recovered from the Red River in mid-August.
The chiefs say an article published in the Winnipeg Sun on Aug. 24 suggests that aboriginal people “have only themselves to blame” for tragedies such as Fontaine’s death.
“I’m not going to call it news because I don’t believe that it reaches the standard of news, objective news,” Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs told reporters on Tuesday morning.
“Often times what’s being printed in the newspapers across the country, I believe, is racialized to the point of inciting hatred.”
That hatred puts families, children and women at risk, Nepinak said.
The boycott is being spearheaded by Terrance Nelson of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, who said it applies not just to the Winnipeg Sun, but the entire Sun Media organization.
“Here in Manitoba, we’re starting the process of ensuring that First Nation dollars do not support racism,” Nelson said.
“The reality is that freedom of the press does not include the right to [the] incitement of hatred.”
The organizations are calling on Canadians to cancel their Sun subscriptions and remove their advertisements. They also want retailers to stop selling or giving away copies of the newspaper in their establishments.
Their boycott will later extend to businesses that continue to advertise with Sun Media.
Nepinak said First Nations officials will reach out to local businesses that advertise in the Sun over the next 60 days.
“The business people that I know, and that I do business with here in Winnipeg, know that this exists, they know it has to stop and I think that they will join forces with us,” he said.
Nepinak and Nelson said they will then encourage First Nations not to do business with anyone that continues to advertise with Sun Media in the new year.
Grand Chief David Harper of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said his organization will stand behind the boycott of the Winnipeg Sun and Sun Media for one calendar year.
Not the first time
This is not the first time the Winnipeg Sun has been targeted by local First Nations groups.
Protesters from the Idle No More movement held a peaceful demonstration outside the Sun’s offices in January 2013, accusing the newspaper of biased coverage of aboriginal issues.
Idle No More protesters demonstrate outside the offices of the Winnipeg Sun in Winnipeg, Man. Saturday Jan. 12, 2013.
And in 1983, a group protested outside the Sun offices over an editorial by Peter Warren that called the average Canadian aboriginal person “a drunk, a wastrel, an idolmonger, a person only too happy to live on a government cheque….”
It’s also not the first time Nelson has accused the media of presenting an anti-aboriginal bias.
In 2005, Nelson took aim at news organizations during the trial of David Ahenakew, a former Saskatchewan First Nations leader who was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks.
At the time, Nelson sparked criticism by condemning what he believed was Jewish control of the Canadian media.
“Articles appear regularly in newspapers filled with hatred of natives,” he wrote in a statement in April 2005.
“Will there be a dramatic rise in hatred of Jews amongst native people? As a chief, I say, ‘Yes there will be’.”
Nelson later apologized for his statement.
Update: The Winnipeg Sun categorically dismissed accusations of racism made Tuesday by a group of Manitoba First Nations representatives.
Mark Hamm, the Winnipeg Sun’s editor-in-chief, said claims from local aboriginal chiefs that the newspaper’s reporting practices are “biased” and “racist” against aboriginal people is baseless.
“The Winnipeg Sun has nothing to be ashamed of with its ongoing coverage of aboriginal issues,” editor in chief Mark Hamm said. “Just because some topics are sensitive isn’t reason to ignore them — not if we believe they merit discussion and debate. Not if we care.”