Saskatoon responds to Joni Mitchell calling city ‘extremely bigoted’

July 25, 2013 - 7:01am
Joni Mitchell courtesy Paradigm Talent Agency.
Joni Mitchell courtesy Paradigm Talent Agency.

Joni Mitchell referring to Saskatoon as an “extremely bigoted community” is getting a lot of reaction from people in the city.

Mitchell made the comments in Wednesday’s The StarPhoenix. She was responding to another group’s attempt to honour her in the city after several failed attempts.

One of the attempts included a museum in her name, which she pictured to include “First Nations culture and opportunities to learn about how settlers and churches treated First Nations,” the article stated.

Her involvement in the projects were positive but weren’t met with much enthusiasm.

"I feel like they shot themselves in the foot ... Saskatoon has always been an extremely bigoted community. It's like the Deep South, and the museum was one thing I thought would be beneficial for people," she told Jeremy Warren in the article.

"Don't think I'm offended. I was embarrassed by the way it was handled. People don't get me there. They don't get my ideas. They just look at me like I'm famous. That's a minor part of it."

Speaking for a group looking to honour the musician this fall, Lorne Calvert said her comments may have been reflective of a community that used to exist.

“I say seldom in doubt, but in this case, she’s wrong,” he said.

While her comments may have been unfounded, Calvert said her contributions can't be overlooked.

“What isn’t in doubt is the greater genius that she has shared with generation and with this continent.”

Mitchell’s comments are a warning for the city, said Ward 2 Councillor Pat Lorje.

"If that's how we are perceived by people who no longer live here, we need to take the time to sit back, reflect on the perception of Saskatoon by others and do everything possible to correct that perception," she said.

"Certainly, I have experienced frequently things that I think people would call demeaning of others or even racist. There seems to be a casualness to comments that people will pass about First Nations and Métis people or people of Ukrainian heritage or Chinese people... who have come here to help build this city. We need to always be looking at our language and actions and the impact that this has."

Chief Felix Thomas of the Saskatoon Tribal Council doesn’t agree with Mitchell’s statement.

"I think any city as big as Saskatoon and area do have bigots in it. That's not to say every city will have that. At the same time, every city can't be classified because they have some of those," he said.

Councillor Darren Hill said he was disappointed.

“I still believe that something should exist in the City of Saskatoon to honour and recognize the fact that this is where Joni Mitchell called home for many years,” he said, adding he doesn’t believe Saskatoon is a bigoted community, despite some challenges.

“We take great pride in Saskatoon with our support and our partnerships that we have in the First Nations community.”

Marcel Petit, a First Nations documentary producer, agreed with Chief Thomas and Hill.

"I don't think that Saskatoon is an extremely bigoted community. I'm going to say it loosely-- there is a lot of ignorance and there is a lot of people who really don't know what goes on. There is a lot of sweeping stuff under the carpet in Saskatoon. That's a big thing," he said, pointing to the language people use.

Chief Thomas said he hears from individuals who are victims of racist comments, but believes those are isolated situations.

"As for an institution, I think Saskatoon is cautious in some of their approaches in doing initiatives but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing,” Thomas said.

Some non-First Nations people will brush off the concerns of First Nations while others take them seriously, he said.  Both Thomas and Petit said Saskatoon could do more.

"I think Joni Mitchell has some valid points. We have an opportunity as a city to have First Nations language and culture and some of our customs, not only in the new museum but also supporting present systems like Wanuskewin,” Thomas said.

Mitchell told The StarPhoenix, she wanted to distance herself from a group looking to recognize her. She also said efforts to retrieve a collection of memorabilia have been rejected.

Speaking for the group, Calvert chalked it up as miscommunication with her agent.

“Now that miscommunication has been clarified. The collection is being assembled and packaged and will be appropriately moved,” he said, adding he had hoped the collection could stay in the community.

Calvert says the group, which met last week to discuss ways to honour Mitchell, will reconvene in the fall without her input.

“While she does not want to be engaged in these discussions, she suggests we just simply move ahead and that’s what we will do.”

-with files from News Talk Radio’s Brent Bosker and David Kirton

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