A University of Manitoba native studies lecturer, Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, recently attempted to discuss Indigenous issues with Morris Mirror editor-in-chief Reed Turcotte. On Jan. 22, Sinclair waited outside of the newspaper office, but did not get the meeting he hoped for.
Controversy first arose when the Morris Mirror published comments toward Aboriginal peoples, which many found offensive. An editorial written by Turcotte commented that First Nations peoples “are acting like terrorists in their own country,” labelling them as corrupt and lazy while discussing the Idle No More movement, which Turcotte gave a “thumbs down” to in his piece.
Despite the opinions of the editor, and the apparent support of the editorial voiced in the letters to the editor published in the Mirror, U of M lecturer Sinclair praised the people and mayor of the small town. After meeting with them, he said that residents were open and incredible and labeled the mayor as inspiring and phenomenal.
Sinclair, who arrived to find the Mirror office closed and locked, waited to meet with Turcotte in freezing temperatures for two hours.
Eventually, the academic taped a letter for the editor on the office door, which he hopes will be published in the next issue of the publication.
“It’s unfortunate but not everyone is ready. Not everyone is ready to have that conversation [ . . . ] I can’t force anyone to be ready for that dialogue,” said Sinclair to the CBC.
“It’s my responsibility to talk to that individual about those words and for him to take responsibility for them, and for him to also explain his position to me.”
Sinclair told the Manitoban that he had planned to discuss Turcotte’s description of Aboriginal peoples as “lazy” and “corrupt” with the editor. By explaining the history of Canada and Treaty One—an agreement signed in 1871 regarding land and annuities for First Nations peoples—as well as discussing historical policies that displaced Indigenous people, Sinclair hoped to reconcile the difference of opinion between him and Turcotte.
“I also would have enjoyed a cup of coffee with him as a fellow member of a shared community and [talked] with him about the beautiful possibilities of life for our children in this territory [ . . . ] I only wanted to meet a fellow relative of my home and bring him a gift.”
The publication, whose website claims that they are “reflecting the views of the local community,” sparked outrage from many, including residents of Morris.
Local businesses and politicians pulled their advertising from the publication in the wake of the controversy.
A local grocery store, Big Way Foods, commented to the CBC that their advertisement would be pulled, as the paper no longer reflects the people of Morris.
Progressive Conservative MLA Mavis Taillieu also decided to remove her advertising after reading the editorial.
“I try to support the local newspapers in my constituency. They have only their advertising to rely on because they give away their papers for free [ . . . ] I initially said I wanted to see what type of retraction he would have, but once I saw [the paper] I could not agree with his comments,” said Taillieu to the Winnipeg Free Press.
Division in the small town remained evident in the aftermath of the editorial. Mayor Gavin van der Linde was vocal about his disapproval of the opinion piece.
“I’m shocked and appalled that somebody can write something like that and think that it was right and acceptable to say it,” van der Linde told the CBC.
Some residents and readers of the Morris Mirror, however, remain supportive of the editor’s comments and have recommended that the mayor move back to his home country, South Africa, due to his disdain of the editorial.
An issue of the Black Rod, a publication that aims to “analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias,” was posted to the Mirror website on Jan. 28. The issue defends Turcotte’s original editorial and suggests that Sinclair was “stalking” Turcotte when he insisted on a meeting after the editor had declined.
“Sinclair refused to take the hint and showed up at the newspaper office anyway, with the CBC spinning the story to make the editor look as if he was refusing to engage in [dialogue] with an aboriginal,” read the Black Rod.
Sinclair remains open to discuss the editor’s comments with the writer himself.
“I will wait. My door will always be open,” he said.