Ahenakew remains under siege after anti-Semitic outburst

OTTAWA - Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has become the latest Aboriginal leader to condemn remarks made by Dr. David Ahenakew praising Nazi Germany's treatment of the Jews.

Coon Come said he was deeply disturbed to have learned of the extraordinary remarks made by Ahenakew that included praising Hitler for trying to clean up the world by exterminating the Jewish race. He said he and the AFN categorically rejected the comments as hateful and morally offensive.

"Millions of people around the world, including hundreds of thousands of Canadians, responded to the call to defeat Nazi oppression and the march of fascism," said Coon Come. He added that aboriginals around the world have suffered unjustified persecution, as have Jews. "Many, including a disproportionate number of First Nations people from Canada, gave their lives in this struggle against Hitler's evil in Europe and elsewhere."

Coon Come said he had contacted senior leaders in the Jewish community and apologized on behalf of the AFN for any harm the remarks may have caused and said he hoped the positive relationship between two of Canada's largest ethnic minorities remained "strong and intact."

M?tis National Council President Gerald Morin has also spoken out against Ahenakew's remarks.

"Our people know all too well the pain caused by hateful words," said Morin. "Our people know how ignorance about our true history is the basis for many of the racist attitudes that exist today ? this is why we condemn these words."

Morin said although Ahenakew was never a leader or representative of the M?tis people, he felt the need to apologize anyway because the remarks have tarnished the image of all Natives.

Ahenakew, who once was national chief of the AFN, is also facing renewed efforts to have him stripped of the honor of membership in the Order of Canada.

The head commissioner and CEO of Nova Scotia's Human Right's Commission, Mayann Francis, said on Dec. 20 that allowing Ahenakew to keep the award after his remarks would cheapen the award and be an insult to others that have earned the honor.

"Somebody who harbors such hate in their heart and is able to vocalize that hate in such a manner, to me, brings a disgrace to what the Order stands for," said Francis.

Francis also said officials who screen nominees for the order need to have stricter guidelines for admission to the Order. She cited Ahenakew's history of racist views as grounds for excluding him in the first place.

"Clearly those that knew him were not prepared to blow the lid off his little secret," said Francis. "They preferred to remain silent and have become accomplices to his act of hate."

The honor is given by the Governor General of Canada on behalf of the Queen and is awarded for significant contributions to Canadian culture, public service and civilian acts of heroism. Some of the more well known recipients of the awards are hockey star and philanthropist Wayne Gretzky and Native actor Chief Dan George.

Ahenakew has also apologized numerous times and has resigned as the chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and from several committees on which he still sits at the AFN. There is no word yet on whether or not he will also face hate crime charges under the Criminal Code of Canada for his remarks.