Contentious or Vicious Slander?
And understandable that his name is anathema to those whom his vitriolic spleen characterized as vermin, deserving of slaughter. If good deeds performed on behalf of those to whom one is inextricably linked by ethnicity, culture and tradition are placed on the scale opposite detestable declarations of support for the annihilation of an entire people on the basis of vile calumny are weighed, where would the protector/offender be placed?
Certainly not on the side of the angels. David Ahenakew - whose startlingly verbose, malicious and hateful slanders against Jews were unveiled to a shocked national audience earned him universal censure that culminated in his removal as a senator with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations five years ago - has now been reinstated as a Federation senator.
"I think he paid his dues", according to Chief Irvin Starblanket of the Starblanket Cree Nation. "He apologized. He won in the courts. And besides, he did more good for us as Indian people than he did wrongs." Thus said one of the 43 chiefs who voted to reinstate the 74-year-old Mr. Ahenakew to his previous place of honour within the native community.
Opposed to the motion for reinstatement were a lonely three chiefs, among them chief Marcel Head of Shoal Lake Cree Nation. "He hasn't changed at all", charged Chief Head. "I'm quite worried and concerned. To accept him now, who knows what he'll do or what he'll say in the future". The three dissenters, those who voted against Mr. Ahenakew's reinstatement very well know the character of the man who brought shame to them through his blatant and vicious anti-Semitic declarations.
The hateful incident that launched an awareness of the deep-seated antipathy by this man toward those of other ethnic backgrounds took place in December of 2002, at a meeting of that same FSIN group. In attendance was a reporter from the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, who sat up and took notice when, in addressing the congregation, this man spoke of "goddam immigrants" in Canada. Post-speech the reporter asked for clarification.
Whereupon Mr. Ahenakew spontaneously offered his opinion about war-mongering Israel and the United States. Reminiscing about his experiences after WWII when he was stationed in Germany and exchanged opinions and information with those with whom he found common cause. The Jews, his ideological compatriots in Germany told him, created that war and were busy working on the next in line, WWIII.
All this was obvious to Mr. Ahenakew, as he explained to the incredulous reporter fulsomely, aware that he was being recorded for publication: "The Jews damn near owned all of Germany prior to the war. ... That's how Hitler came in. He was going to make damn sure that the Jews didn't take over Germany or Europe. That's why he fried six million of those guys, you know. Jews would have owned the goddamned world."
When the reporter prodded, asking how Mr. Ahenakew could explain the occurrence of the Holocaust, the response was: "How do you get rid of a disease like that, that's going to take over, that's going to dominate". How does anyone respond to such bitterly hateful accusations? With disbelief. How is it possible that an individual whose own people had suffered so grievously would be so quick to assign such judgement on others?
More to the point, how is it possible for a representative of a people whose sad history was one of exploitation and dehumanization, be so prepared to hate and Satanize other victimized people, others whose history of hostile brutalization and eventual genocidal catastrophe classified them as a ethno-society that suffered the most tragic fate in modern times.
After publication of these views, aboriginal leaders, along with Jewish groups and Canada's politicians at every level condemned the comments and the man who uttered them. Perry Bellegarde, then-president of FSIN, and Matthew Coon Come, then-national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, were quick off the mark to reject the man and his views. Mr. Ahenakew was clearly caught off guard by the response, and apologized.
These were not really his views, he explained, he had been "...caught up in the heat of the moment ... attempting to spark debate and what has been happening to our First Nations people." While later, at his trial he recanted, blaming his incautious remarks on his medical condition, on having imbibed wine. As a defence, it was rejected by the Court, possibly because he testified that he continued to believe Jews caused WWII.
He went on to further distinguish himself by similarly inflammatory and fallacious beliefs; that Jews control the media, "then there's got to be something done about that". Perhaps Jews should feel less embattled than they do, by this man's vehemence in unveiling them for what he claims they really are, for other ethnic groups and Blacks are also held in perilously low esteem by this respected elder of the Saskatchewan Indian community.
When he was convicted in a Saskatchewan court in 2005, of wilfully promoting hatred against Jews, and fined, his membership in the Order of Canada was revoked. In 2006 his conviction was overturned by the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench on the grounds that the trial judge failed to take into consideration that the remarks took place in an atmosphere of angry confrontation.
A new trial was ordered. Mr. Ahenakew's new trial will commence in the fall. He has besmirched the good reputation of the people whom he claims to defend, and his past activities on their behalf, while bringing honour to his name as a First Nations elder, balances poorly against his vicious slander against those of another historical tribe.
In reinstating the honourary position of this man in the Federation of Saskatchewan Saskatchewan Indian Nations, those who voted in his favour have done no honour to themselves, to their federation, to their collective need to distinguish themselves as seekers after justice for all people, not just Canadian Indians. And that's a pity.