A group of hereditary chiefs are calling on BC NDP leader John Horgan to remove their candidate for the Stikine riding after he made racist remarks about an Indigenous BC Liberal Party candidate.
“We are calling on you today to remove Nathan Cullen as a BC NDP candidate. Anything less will be a further signal of disrespect to Indigenous people in British Columbia, and inconsistent with your stated commitment to reconciliation,” reads the letter signed by 10 Gitxsan hereditary chiefs.
In a video that surfaced online on Saturday, NDP candidate Nathan Cullen could be heard talking about B.C. Liberals candidate for the North Coast, Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial, who is a Haida hereditary chief.
“He is not well-liked, in his – he’s Haida – in his own community. The guy’s going to get bedrock 20 per cent,” Cullen said before going on to laugh about his nickname. “His name is Kinkles…”
Cullen apologized for his comments during a media availability via Zoom on Saturday.
“I unreservedly apologize… they were inappropriate. I’ve since spoken with Roy and apologized to him and spoken with other Haida leadership,” said Cullen.
“It was wrong what I said. I take it back entirely.”
The campaign for Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial responded on Facebook, saying they hope the electorate of North Coast will “send a message to Mr. Cullen” by supporting Roy Jones Jr. on election day.
“Roy was given that name by an adult member of his community when he was young and it carries meaning for him,” reads the post.
“Nathan Cullen has been viewed by many as having the utmost respect for indigenous people but these comments about a Haida leader and his people are arrogant, unfortunate and show his true colours.”
Cullen’s comments have been widely criticized on social media for their insensitivity and racist undertones.
Making fun of an Indigenous name, a Haida name? Roy Jones was an old fishing buddy of my dad. Always been a generous, kind man. Nathan Cullen has apologized for poking fun of Roy’s Haida name, but its hard to see why it should be accepted. All apologies, zero allyship #bcpoli https://t.co/yCGpoU85Nz
— Ginger Gosnell-Myers (@Skusgluums) October 17, 2020
However the letter from the Office of the Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs has already become the subject of some controversy since it was published.
“I am totally choked that the Gitxsan Hereditary Chief’s office are calling for resignation of Nathan Cullen. I would really like to know just under whose authority they are doing this,” writes Hereditary Chief Gwininitxw Yvonne Lattie.
“So many times the Gitxsan Chiefs make negative comments stating it comes from the Chiefs office when in reality very few Chiefs have been contacted.”
Lattie says neither she, nor her partner Tony Gawa, Hereditay Chief Wii’s Tiis, gave the Chief’s office permission to make such a comment.
She also points out that the Executive Director of the Hereditary Chief’s Office is also the BC Liberal Party’s candidate for the Bulkley Stikine riding, Gordon Sebastian.
“Nathan Cullen of the NDP is a man you can talk to, he is approachable. As a Hereditary Chief, I have had a very good relationship with Nathan, we have had some very good debates on many issues,” writes Lattie.
Further, the Council of the Haida Nation issued a tweet stating that Cullen’s comments do not warrant his resignation.
“Nathan 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 relationship with the Haida Nation and his recent comments do not warrant his resignation or an apology to the Haida Nation,” reads the tweet.
"Nathan 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 relationship with the Haida Nation and his recent comments do not warrant his resignation or an apology to the Haida Nation." — Gaagwiis
— CHN (@CHN_HaidaNation) October 18, 2020
Former Premier and BC NDP leader John Horgan responded to the incident overall, saying he has spoken to Nathan Cullen and expressed his disappointment, but the candidate will not be removed from the NDP caucus.
“He’s been the MP for the area for 15 years. The Haida nation has endorsed his apology. I know no one’s going to work harder than Nathan to make up for his stupid comments,” said Horgan.