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Miawpukek chief calls remarks at heart of Byrne-Dinn spat ‘racist’

Mi’sel Joe says comments made in 2018 were derogatory, after the fisheries minister released an audio recording of the meeting.

Chief Mi’sel Joe says he supports Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne raising the issue in the House of Assembly. (Fred Hutton/CBC News)

Miawpukek First Nation Chief Mi’sel Joe says comments made during a meeting between members of a salmon association and the provincial government were derogatory and racist.

An audio recording of a 2018 meeting between government and the Salmonid Association of Eastern Newfoundland was sent to the media by Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne on Tuesday. 

Within the hour, Joe sent a news release that said he too has listened to the audio recording and condemns what he calls systemic racism against Indigenous people.

This is the latest chapter in a spat between Byrne and NDP MHA Jim Dinn, which began when the latter began questioning the minister in the House about the state of aquaculture in the province.

Last week in the House of Assembly, Byrne accused Dinn of condoning racist remarks made during the meeting.

Dinn denied the claim, and his party, along with the Tories, have since called for Byrne’s resignation.

Byrne on Tuesday released an audio recording of the 2018 meeting. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Below is a transcript of a portion of the audio recording provided by Byrne, in which the group discusses a peer review science process:

Unnamed SAEN official: Most of them had a science knowledge to bring to the table. Now, in some of the First Nations people, I’m not sure. But they were there because of our kowtowing to First Nations people. They have to be at the table. (Laughter)

Gerry Byrne: I’m sorry, what?

Official: They have to be at the table.

Byrne: Sorry, I have to take objection to what you just said, sir. There’s no kowtowing to Indigenous in Newfoundland and Labrador (inaudible)…. I have to take exception.

Jim Dinn: (inaudible) …required by law, they are First Nations, and that’s no problem. That’s part of their rights as First Nations people and people who lived on this land. I have no issue with that. And I think that is not the position of SAEN.

Byrne: But there are Indigenous people over there that do not possess constitutional or treaty rights. So there is no requirement for them to be there by law, but there is a justifiable reason for them to be there.

Dinn: And that’s what I’m looking at by law meaning meaning (inaudible).

Byrne: So I will ask you to retract (inaudible).

Official: Yes, I will take that back. It was a poor choice of words.

“I have listened to the audio carefully and with an open mind to any reasonable interpretation of the words as well as the explanations as to what they were intended to mean,” Joe said.

“We have concluded that the remarks were derogative, racist, and so too was the contrived attempt to legitimize them.”

Joe said no apology was given — just a retraction.

NDP MHA Jim Dinn says Byrne got personal in the legislature to avoid answering questions about problems in the aquaculture industry. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Dinn has told members of the media that the person who made the remarks has since been removed from SAEN. However, Joe said this unnamed person has been “included at several important consultation sessions as a representative of a salmon council, which included SAEN as a member.”

“This person continued to sit at a federal government table discussing important matters affecting Indigenous people without First Nation people knowing who the person was, what he had done, and what his value system represented.”

Joe also supports Byrne for raising the issue in the House of Assembly. 

Meanwhile, Byrne is not backing down from his critics and opponents in the legislature who have called for him to step down from cabinet over the handling of a mass salmon die-off on the south coast, and comments made toward two fellow MHAs. 

“When the truth is deliberately reframed and you are told that what you know to be true is not true and when your mental stability is publicly questioned and you are told you should be segregated from others — quarantined — that’s called gaslighting,” Byrne said in a media statement sent from his own email, as opposed to a media relations officer.

Premier Dwight Ball has said he supports Byrne. 

Read more by CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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