The price of making racist remarks

Michael Johansen
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The matter is closed. At least, the lid’s shut and they’re all sitting on top of it, but there’s so much stuff underneath, it keeps forcing itself out — revealing a whole host of matters to public scrutiny.

The matter, this latest matter, started when two Muskrat Falls workmen failed to repair an old pump as ordered by the project manager for a Nalcor/SNC-Lavalin subcontractor called IKC-One Earthworks Constructors.

Two women working for the same company say they overheard the manager angrily complain to another man that the pump did not need replacing, as the two would-be repairmen had reported. The real problem, according to the manager (as heard by the two women), was the race of the employees and that race’s inherent laziness.

  “The other guy didn’t say anything,” one of the women explained. “(The manager) had to know we were in the building. He could hear us come in.”

A blockade, an occupation, some sudden flights to Labrador and almost a million dollars of lost construction time later, and Nalcor’s top officials — who didn’t immediately send their lawyers to get an injunction to keep these particular protesters away from land they consider to be their own, but instead dropped everything to get to Labrador as quickly as possible to discuss terms with an angered Innu Nation — seem confident that their apology for the highly offensive remarks makes everything better.

As far as that single offence is concerned, they’re probably right. The offended people wanted the offender to go and he is gone — maybe not fired, as the two witnesses had demanded, but at least banished from Labrador.

The apology, however, has only closed that one incident.

The people blocking the entrance to Muskrat Falls (who were soon to be driving onto the site to evict a couple hundred startled workers) said the whole project displayed bias — not just against Innu and not just collectively against all of Labrador’s aboriginal peoples, either, but also generally against the people of Labrador.

Protesters complained that not only were too few Innu, Inuit and NunatuKavut peoples working for Nalcor (only a total of 71 out of 466), but with the completion of temporary worker accommodations onsite, the company wanted to cancel its shuttle bus to and from Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The local workers were told they had to find their own way to work, but would have no place to park their cars and trucks except on the shoulders of the Trans-Labrador Highway.

It all added up to one thing for the protesters: a demand for respect.

The majority of Labrador Innu have so far supported the development through the as-yet incomplete ratification of New Dawn, but their apparent disinterest in the controversy around Muskrat Falls only lasted as long as they didn’t think Nalcor was taking them for granted.

As one of many signs proclaimed:



And as one protest organizer declared: “We sanctioned this project and sure as f--- we can stop it.”

Stop it they did, for a couple of days, at least, but they did more. They also led Natuashish Chief Simeon Tshakapesh, who assumed leadership of the protest, to make this statement:

“I don’t believe any race should be superior. … One race is not to judge any ethnic groups, especially to aboriginal groups in Labrador: Innu, Inuit, Metis, settlers … we are humans like the rest of the world.”

Chief Tshakapesh’s declaration of solidarity — even with an aboriginal group the Innu Nation has resisted recognizing — bodes well for Labrador if this spirit of co-operation and mutual support is allowed to grow.

In the meantime, the chief has turned his focus to the wider aspects of the issue that started it all.

“I want to be informed right away if my fellow Innu people … encounter any racial profiling, racial slurs, basically racism in any public places, or even workplaces,” Tshakapesh announced. “These public places (include) RCMP detachments, schools, colleges across Canada, Health Labrador hospital, eastern hospitals, Child, Youth and Family Services buildings, churches, gas stations, stores, airports, etc. … My people, make sure you get names … or even get their licence plates and their work places. That’s all I need. I will take it from there.”

Matter closed?


It’s only starting to open.

Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Organizations: SNC-Lavalin, Earthworks Constructors, Trans-Labrador Highway.It New Dawn RCMP Health Labrador hospital Youth and Family Services

Geographic location: Labrador, Muskrat Falls, Happy Valley Goose Bay Canada

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Recent comments

  • Jay
    April 28, 2013 - 09:22

    Michael, You're right, there's absolutely no place for racism in today's society. However, I'm surprised you didn't comment on the recent takeover of the Child Youth office and the racist proclamation that "Innu belong with Innu people." This position being taken despite the fact that a large number of children had, for good reason, to be taken from their parents. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  • Petertwo
    April 28, 2013 - 07:36

    It seems racist to me guaranteeing jobs to people on the basis of race. Most humans today get jobs on the basis of their education and skills, that they have taken the time out of their lives to study and learn, at least in the Western world, and are selected accordingly. There is no guaranteed work for anyone who is white, in fact there are a heck of a lot in poverty with no one speaking for them, and they are looked down upon. Employers depend on skilled people to complete their projects whatever they may be and time is always important to keep costs to a minimal within the budgets provided. This cost loss said to be a million dollars is one loss that can never be recovered in money or in time. I think some rational prudence ought to be practised by both sides, they are not the only ones involved and the taxpayers, who already foot the bill for the aboriginal peoples, lose again, where is the respect for them?

  • Unfortunate Son
    April 27, 2013 - 21:55

    For the love of God, Michael, put down the pen and pick up an hammer or saw or something. There's jobs all around you in Labrador. It's one of the last bastions of employment outside of Alberta and yet you find ways to sit home and whine about how hard you're done by. Leave Newfoundland if you want to, but the territory will still rely on some sort of Gov't from away handout or direction.

  • Petertwo
    April 27, 2013 - 17:35

    I do'nt know Suzanne, what could a security guard do? Being screamed at by the chief indicates to me an irrational abuse of another human being, if we are all "humans like the rest of the world". To be effective one should practice what one preaches, otherwise they are just empty words. The article reads like the project manager lost it as well, what started him off ? Where was the respect for him?

  • Anon
    April 27, 2013 - 15:48

    That's great, they get to protest and complain on the tax-payers dollar. That's just lovely. Too bad they can't work as hard as they can protest or we'd be under budget and ahead of schedule.

  • david
    April 27, 2013 - 13:15

    We are all now officially a society of petrified lumps. Let's just close up the shop, put a for sale sign on the door, and commit ourselves to the looney bin.

  • Agnes
    April 27, 2013 - 11:57

    I think Chief Simeon Tshakapesh is doing a Great Job representing his people and he has been for a long time. Matter of fact, the time is long over-due when a spoke person, like Chief Tshakapeh, who speaks up against the ills perpetrated on his people and as is stated in this column, the ills perpetrated on other races of people, should be appointed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Government to over see the Innu's needs. As was quoted in Mr. Johansen's column, a statement by Chief Tshakapesh which states "“I don’t believe any race should be superior. … One race is not to judge any ethnic groups, especially to aboriginal groups in Labrador: Innu, Inuit, Metis, settlers … we are humans like the rest of the world.” Your Statement Chief Tshakapesh is a Golden Rule in my books. Keep up the great work you are doing, all races have a lot to learn from your statement Chief!!!!! And everyone should follow the Golden Rule "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You". All matters that crop up should be settled in a Constructive Manner instead of using racist and inhumane slurs!

    • Christopher Chafe
      April 28, 2013 - 11:22

      Perhaps he should practice what he preaches.

  • saelcove
    April 27, 2013 - 11:54

    that only happens when you are white,this will probably bother some people if so good

  • Corporate Psycho
    April 27, 2013 - 10:31

    Saw the chief on tv screaming at a security guard. Real leader that guy. Should be arrested for uttering threats.

    • suzanne
      April 27, 2013 - 12:22

      this is in response to the comment about the chief.... I‘m certain that when you speak in a civil manner,and then time and again ignored, you in turn find a loud voice within ! Since they do not hear the calm voice of reason, then maybe they are deaf ? Maybe the corporation needs to sit in on the lecons about anti-bullying that the children are taught !