After a chorus of boos answered Jennifer Rice’s speech at the All Native Basketball Tournament opening ceremonies on Sunday, she issued an apology on Facebook.
Her speech followed a powerful performance by the Gingolx Cultural Dancers, who led matriarchs, chiefs and players onto the court in front of a packed audience. Mayor Lee Brain, MLA Jennifer Rice and MP Nathan Cullen each took a turn on the mic.
Rice’s attempt at a sarcastic joke, in which she called the performance “not bad”, elicited no laughter. More than 85 dancers were dressed in traditional regalia and had practised their performance since September 2017. Fundraising efforts raised $26,000 for the group to attend.
In a post on her Facebook page, Rice said “They worked hard, practised hard, fundraised hard so they could open the ceremonies in a way people would never forget. And they were unforgettable. I was blown away by their performance.
“I attempted to make a sarcastic joke (which clearly flopped) by calling their performance “not bad”. Some people took my comment literally and I offended them. That was not my intention at all. I meant the complete opposite as I thought they were phenomenal.
“To those I offended, I sincerely apologize. I have nothing but the utmost respect for all the Nations who make the ANBT the incredible cultural and sporting event that it is.”
The comments below her post, which has more than 70 comments and was shared more than 100 times, reveal a mixed response. One calls for a feast and apology with gifts to the matriarchs and elders of the Gingolx. Some wrote that her joke was taken too seriously, while others said they felt disrespected. Many thanked the MLA for her apology.
One commenter wrote that her joke hadn’t been misunderstood — her folly was making a joke at all. The “sombreness of the moment” was changed by her making light of an emotional event, when given the opportunity to honour the performers.