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Burnaby civic party demands apology after opponents' ‘racist’ tweet

"Now I have to defend myself and my community against lies."
Mikelle Sasakamoose01WEB
Trustee candidate Mikelle Sasakamoose is the first Indigenous woman to run for office in Burnaby.

A rival political party says it was just trying to hold the Burnaby Citizens Association accountable, but Burnaby’s lone First Nations candidate says questions about her party’s actions on Truth and Reconciliation Day was “racist” and trivializes the experiences of Indigenous people in Canada.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Multiple members of the Burnaby Citizens Association stated on Sept. 30 that the party was taking a break from campaigning on the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and encouraged its members to participate in “reconciliation work in the community.”

A week later, One Burnaby, a new centrist party running six council candidates in this month’s municipal election, questioned whether the BCA had lived up to that commitment.

The party tweeted two photos of Mikelle Sasakamoose (one of her with federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh) and another photo of BCA members at an event with MLA and BC NDP leadership candidate David Eby.

The tweet said the photos appeared to show the BCA campaigning on Truth and Reconciliation Day.

“#Burnaby deserves to know: did you say one thing & do another?” asked the post.

‘Offensive’

The tweet angered Sasakamoose, who spent Sept. 30 with her daughters attending an event put on by the Spirit of the Children Society at Westminster Pier Park in New Westminster.

She said the photos in the One Burnaby tweet were from events earlier in the month. The event with Eby was on Sept. 11, and the photo of her with Singh was posted her own Instagram account on Sept. 25.

A photo of Mikelle Sasakamoose with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh posted on Sept. 25.

Sasakamoose, a member of the Ahatahkakoop Cree Nation with Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and Syilx heritage, explained Truth and Reconciliation Day is deeply personal to her and her community.

“I’m the first person in my family to not have attended a residential school,” she told the NOW.

The suggestion she was campaigning on Sept. 30 after encouraging others to mark the day in a meaningful way was “offensive,” she said.

“I couldn’t just solemnly commemorate that day and spend a beautiful day with my children, but now I have to defend myself and my community against lies,” she said.  

‘Perfectly reasonable question’

One Burnaby campaign manager Kit Sauder said the photos in the tweet had been sent to the party on Sept. 30 by “a citizen” who told them they’d been taken that day.

“An existing political organization that’s governed the city for more than three decades made a public commitment to not campaign on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. Photos were provided with the implication that they were, in fact, campaigning,” he said.

When asked whether One Burnaby had checked where the photos had come from, Sauder said the party had “asked where they’d gotten them” and looked at what was in the photos.

“The school board candidate has an Every Child Matters t-shirt on, and so we feel that it’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask of the campaign,” he said.

When asked if he was satisfied with how much One Burnaby had researched the source of the photos before posting the tweet, Sauder said:

“The campaign stands by the fact that we believe that it was a reasonable question to ask and that it’s the onus of the BCA to respond.”

For Sasakamoose, however, the matter goes beyond elections and campaigns.

“This is not about an election for me,” she said. “For me, this is personal, this is who I am, this is my community. You can’t trivialize the trauma of an entire community for something like that. That’s not right. Regardless of whether there’s an election. Whatever is going on, that’s not right. If we’re going to advance to reconciliation, then people can’t do things like that.”

Saskamoose released a statement about the incident Friday afternoon, and the BCA is now calling for an apology from One Burnaby.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
Email cnaylor@burnabynow.com

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