At one time I would've been delighted and honoured to sit at a table with David Ahenakew.
Former head of the Assembly of First Nations and a decorated war veteran, he's long fought for native rights, and much of where we stand today can be traced to his efforts and those of people like him. He was there pushing the envelope when the envelope didn't exist. But alas, after struggling so long to be heard by various governments, he came to believe his voice was the only one worth hearing.
All through his ordeal, you will notice he's maintained a certain defiance and lack of contrition. Ahenakew has blamed his medication, his health, even the media. When he was convicted of wilfully promoting hatred and stripped of his Order of Canada, he blamed the Jewish community, the Canadian court system - everybody but himself.
But to use an ancient saying, "If it walks like a duck...." And when that duck says on tape, "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany. That's how Hitler came in. That's why he fried 6 million of those guys," that's not duck. That's a goose being cooked. Ahenakew even claims, "My case was as much about racism against First Nations as it was about alleged racism against the Jewish community."
No, it wasn't. I may be somewhat naive on the subject, but one would hope that in a civilized country when you call a race of people "a disease" and then justify the Holocaust, the courts would get involved.
Perhaps the true irony here is that if somebody had said equally reprehensible things about First Nations or the Cree specifically, I have no doubt Ahenakew himself would demand an investigation.
In Canada, there is racism - try to find a native person in this country who hasn't felt its sting. And, yes, Canadian jails are disproportionately overcrowded with First Nations inmates, an indication of some massive judicial malfunction.
But some issues transcend our own little worlds. I have yet to find a connection between Jews being a "disease" and native people rotting in jail. (I know the Mormons believe aboriginal people to be one of the lost tribes of Israel, but this is going too far.) I do, however, know many fabulous folks of mixed Jewish/First Nations heritage, affectionately known as "schmohawks."
There are those who would argue that Ahenakew's comments weren't racist. A academic once tried to tell me that it's impossible for aboriginal people or other marginalized groups to be racist. Only white people can be racist, because racism works from the top down and is the domain of the privileged. Well, I guess a case like this bucks the trend.
Then again, David Ahenakew was always a groundbreaker.