The leader of the NDP, along with the candidate at the heart of the issue, are both apologizing after insensitive comments made by Nathan Cullen Thursday (Oct. 15).
Cullen, a former federal NDP MP, is running for the MLA spot in the Stikine riding during the Oct. 24 provincial election. His comments about Roy Jones Jr., the BC Liberals candidate for the neighbouring North Coast riding, sparked criticism on Saturday after his comments at an all-candidates debate.
“He’s not well-liked — he’s Haida — in his own community,” said Cullen, referring to Jones Jr. “The guy’s going to get bedrock 20 per cent.”
Cullen then went on to make fun of “Kinkles,” a nickname given to Jones Jr. when he was very young.
“I informed him about the name given to me as a two or three-year-old child and it is used to address me through the years and today most people don’t know my Christian name Roy Jones Jr,” explained Jones Jr. in an interview with Vancouver radio station News 1130.
“The name was given to me by Mrs. Kobayashi in Japanese it means ‘Golden Boy,’ Mr. and Mrs. Kobayashi were friends of my mom and late dad and as a child I remember dad going to visit all the time until one day her husband left for Japan for his final days and she stayed until she left Haida Gwaii for her final days and lived for another 25 years in Japan before passing away. All the time having contact with my parents.”
In Japanese folklore, Golden Boy is a child of superhuman strength.
On Saturday, Cullen responded to a BC Liberals staff member’s tweet criticizing his comments.
“I apologize unreservedly for my comments and have done so personally to Roy. I need to, and will, do better,” Cullen tweeted.
During a campaign stop in the Vancouver Island’s Courtenay-Comox riding Sunday, NDP Leader John Horgan addressed comments made by Cullen during an all-candidates forum in Smithers.
“I spoke with Nathan yesterday, I expressed my disappointment in his comments. As I said, what you say privately, you should be able to say publicly. There’s great remorse, Nathan has great remorse, but he has represented the area as a Member of Parliament for over 15 years, the people in the region know his heart, and I am confident that no one will work harder than Nathan to make up for his mis-speaking.”
When asked if there will be any additional actions by the party, Horgan said there would not be.
“The repercussions are that Nathan is feeling devastated by this on a personal level. I believe no one will work harder than Nathan now, to rebuild the trust with those who may have started to question that. I’m understanding in the region, people are standing behind him, the Haida Nation is standing behind him, as are other Indigenous groups throughout the territory, and I know Nathan will be working hard, hard, hard to make up for his mis-speaking.”
This is not the first time Cullen’s campaign has come under fire. The NDP was criticized for choosing him over Tahltan Central Government president Annita McPhee, who had said the party was going back on their equity policy.
The Office of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, centered in the Hazeltons, has written NDP leader John Horgan, asking him to remove Cullen as the NDP candidate in the Stikine riding.
“Anything less will be a further signal of disrespect to Indigenous people in British Columbia, and inconsistent with your stated commitment to reconciliation,” the letter continued.
The letter, signed by 10 hereditary chiefs, also referred to the NDP choosing Cullen over former Tahltan Central Government president Annita McPhee as its Stikine candidate.
Jason Alsop, Gaagwiis, president of the Haida Nation issued a statement Oct. 17 saying Cullen “has worked hard over the years to represent all of the people of the North Coast with respect.”
“Mr. Cullen has established a good working relationship with the Haida Nation and his recent comments do not warrant his resignation or an apology to the Haida Nation.”
Jones Jr. said in a statement on Monday that Alsop, Gaagwiis, does not speak for every Haida person.
“The leader of the Haida is free to express a personal opinion, but I believe it is unfair for them to comment on behalf of the Haida Nation. Mr. Cullen’s comments were wrong and it is up to each member of the Haida Nation to determine what Nathan’s motivation was for making them.”
BC Liberal candidate and former Haisla Chief Ellis Ross, running for re-election in Skeena, issued the following statement:
“There’s no place in British Columbia for racism. The statements made by Nathan Cullen, which he thought were private, and John Horgan’s subsequent refusal to condemn them are very disturbing.
“John Horgan might claim not to see colour but I can assure you that minority groups do see colour. British Columbians are looking for leadership now while John Horgan is hiding.
“John Horgan says all the right words about reconciliation but then fails to deliver. He rejected Annita McPhee as a candidate, breaking his own rules to give his buddy Cullen the nomination. He’s frustrated First Nations who want economic development to lift their people out of poverty, and when Cullen slams another First Nations leader, Horgan avoids all responsibility.
“First Nations leaders are appalled and demanding answers:
The BC Chief Treaty Commissioner, says “someone needs to explain why [Nathan Cullen’s] still running for the BC NDP.”
The president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council is saying Nathan Cullen “must step down.”
The co-chair of the First Nations Summit says, “no amount of apologizing will fix this.”
“True character is revealed by what you say when no one is looking. The question is what John Horgan will do now that people are listening?”
BC Liberal Gordon Sebastian, who is running against Cullen for the Stikine seat, said he was disappointed by Cullen’s comment.
“I was always suspicious, he has his nice smile and he always tells you things and then for him to knock Mr. Roy Jones, I don’t have time for that,” Sebastian said. “Clearly he’s shown what he really thinks of First Nations people, he knocks us, and an apology does not help him in this instance, definitely. We have processes within the Gitxsan system when you want to apologize and it is a process.”
“It makes your smile as phoney as a three dollar bill, but clearly he mocked us and that’s all I can say about that now.”
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