Community leaders gather to discuss racism

NANAIMO – Educating community against intolerance, moving on from incident high on agenda.

Vancouver Island University president Ralph Nilson

Vancouver Island University president Ralph Nilson

Civic leaders gathered Wednesday morning at Vancouver Island University to discuss how the city can move forward after undercurrents of racism surfaced in a local newspaper last week.

On March 27, the Nanaimo Daily News published a letter that referred to First Nations as primitive and non-contributors to the modern world.

The letter, for which the paper has since apologized for printing, prompted an immediate outcry from the public, and more than 250 people protested outside the Daily News’s office the following day, demanding an apology.

The event made international news.

The meeting at VIU, attended by dozens of business leaders, politicians, and First Nations representatives, aimed to address racism and stem the damage outside perception may cause the city.

Snuneymuxw Chief Douglas White III said the incident needs to serve as a starting point to build a more tolerant community.

“We need to grasp on to this issue as an opportunity for us to do the hard work of taking steps to build reconciliation,” said White after the two-hour meeting closed. “We need to move away from this negativity as quickly as we can and begin to address the underlying issues in society that the racism illuminates, grab hold of them and work together to ensure that we do the important work.”

A committee will be struck to determine first steps on how to approach addressing racism over the next year, and will likely include a summit in the summer to consider the roles all stakeholders, including media, plays in addressing tolerance.

VIU president Ralph Nilson said it will take the entire community to eliminate racism.

“As a university in this community we’ve got a responsibility to provide a space for difficult dialogues that can take place in a respectful, supportive way,” said Nilson. “I characterize the tone in this meeting today as a community that recognizes that we’ve got some challenges … but there is a clear recognition that there is a commitment on the part of this community to work together.”

Nilson called Wednesday’s meeting “rich, deep and very, very thoughtful.”

Mark MacDonald, the Daily News’s managing editor, addressed the gathering, apologizing again for printing the letter and offering support to move forward.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan said the theme he heard the most during the meeting was the need for change and improvement in how people in Nanaimo treat and respect each other.

“From that standpoint alone, it was very positive,” said Ruttan. “We want to provide people with the knowledge that Nanaimo is a safe place to be, it’s a place worthy of investment. I’m worried negative thoughts might have gone across Canada and it’s just so wrong. This is the place to be and to enjoy the lifestyle. We have everything here but we do not have racism and I want people to understand that if there are undertones out there, we will do our best to educate the people.”

Ruttan added that he has addressed concerns from potential investors, including potential conference centre hotel investors, that the “atmosphere in Nanaimo is somewhat toxic.”

“The lone voice of one person, which really perpetrated this whole thing, is not enough to hold a whole community at ransom,” said Ruttan.

White said he holds out hope that one incident will not overshadow all of the positive attributes Nanaimo has to offer.

“This incident from last week does not in any way reflect the larger segment of our society. The larger segment of society is reflected today in the coming together of a diverse set of people to recognize an important discussion in our society that must unfold,” he said.

Just Posted

Janice Coady, left, Aimee Chalifoux and Linda Milford at a vigil for Amy Watts on Wednesday, June 16, outside Nanaimo city hall. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman who was killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

The B.C. Ministry of Education has announced close to $44 million for the province’s schools for COVID-19 recovery. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school stakeholders say COVID-19 recovery funding can make a difference

B.C. Ministry of Education announces it expects a ‘near-normal’ return to class in September

Nanaimo artist Melissa Anderson has paintings on display at White Rabbit Coffee Co. for the next month. (Josef Jacobson/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo painter showcases coastal Island views in first exhibit in two years

Melissa Anderson presents ‘Seascapes’ oil painting exhibit at White Rabbit Coffee Co.

New COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island by local health area for the week of June 6-12. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control image)
New COVID-19 cases up on Island, but health officials say trends going right way

There were 22 new COVID-19 cases in Greater Victoria last week after just four the week before

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Co-op gas station at Whiskey Creek is burning after a camper van exploded while refueling just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (FACEBOOK PHOTO)
Exploding camper van torches Highway 4 gas station between Qualicum Beach and Port Alberni

Highway traffic blocked after Whiskey Creek gas station erupts into flames

Helen Austin performing with Trent Freeman at the 2018 Vancouver Island MusicFest. Austin is one of the many performers listed for the 2021 event.
Vancouver Island MusicFest goes virtual for 2021

Black Press to stream 25 hours of programming July 9-11

Greater father involvement in the home leads to improved childhood development and increased marital satisfaction, says expert. (Black Press Media file photo)
Vancouver Island researcher finds lack of father involvement a drag on gender equality

Working women still taking on most child and household duties in Canada: UVic professor

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

Most Read