A Slave Lake councillor is apologizing to residents after saying the community should "stop feeding" homeless people from surrounding Indigenous communities.
Coun. Joy McGregor, who was giving an update on the Homeless Coalition, made the comments during a Sept. 8 council meeting.
"A lot of our people are coming from Trout, Loon, Atikameg, Wabasca. They're not even local to our own community," said McGregor. "We need to do some solid work ... to get them home. We need to stop being so nice to them. We need to stop feeding them. We need to stop doing all these wonderful things."
McGregor acknowledged at the time that her comments would likely cause anger.
"I know that that sounds horrible ... but they have to be accountable and we have to get them home."
She added that the homeless population tends to charge phones and iPads outside the local college, a practice that she would like to see stopped.
As well, she suggested the town work with local grocery stores to stop the homeless population from stealing hand sanitizer.
She said hand sanitizer may have to be an over-the-counter product like Sudafed and mouthwash, to stop people from drinking it.
"It's a quick way that people use it and abuse it."
In a Nov. 8 press release, the Driftpile Cree Nation released a statement condemning her comments.
The First Nation is "of the view that neither the approach nor the language used by Councillor McGregor are appropriate or acceptable — particularly in an era of reconciliation between First Nations and Canada."
As well, the First Nation said, the statements show a "willful ignorance" to the root cause of the issue, which is "the direct result of our peoples' forced disconnection from our land, culture and community by Canadian colonization."
The First Nation said it recognizes there is a significant homelessness problem in the community.
Barbara Courtorielle, executive director of the Slave Lake Aboriginal Friendship Centre, had pitched rezoning a provincially owned building for transitional housing, but that proposal was rejected by council on Nov. 3.
The Friendship Centre hosted the mat program in its building last year but that's not possible this year because the space has been dedicated to youth programming.
"We are and continue to be deeply disappointed by the lack of partnership shown by the Town of Slave Lake in this regard," wrote the Driftpile Cree Nation.
The First Nation is encouraging members to stop supporting Slave Lake's businesses. The First Nation said it will not be making any expenditures in Slave Lake until it receives a public apology for "the callous, cruel and racist comments made by councillor McGregor."
Mayor speaks to issue
In a Monday news conference, Mayor Tyler Warman offered an apology.
"The Town of Slave Lake would like to start by apologizing to the Indigenous communities near and far that we have left you with the impression that this is how our council thinks," he said.
He said the town has work to do in helping those in need.
When Warman was asked if thought McGregor's comments were racist, he said, "Obviously I think that those comments were not correct."
But he added he doesn't have the expertise to say whether or not the comments were racist.
"We recognize an apology needs to be made and we need to move forward."
Warman has not reached out to any of the nearby Indigenous communities, but he said that's coming soon.
McGregor did not attend the news conference, but Warman said he is is the spokesperson for the town and McGregor has apologized.
WATCH | Councillor says town should 'stop being so nice' to the homeless from surrounding communities
Warman also said McGregor has experienced "some very personal attacks and she's taking some time now to herself."
The mayor added that he probably should've spoken up at the initial council meeting.
"I have to do better as well," said Warman. "We need to work on our wording. We need to work on our understanding."
Boycott still in play
Chief Dwayne Laboucan of Driftpile Cree Nation said he's thankful the mayor recognized the issue with the councillor's comments.
"We still would like to have councillor McGregor say something," he said.
Laboucan said in the meantime he's still encouraging a boycott of Slave Lake's businesses and will meet with council in the next few days to see if the boycott will be lifted.
In a Nov. 9 Facebook post, McGregor said she acknowledges "that I have upset many people by using language that was inconsiderate.
"I am deeply sorry to you all and those affected by poor choice of language."
The text of McGregor's apology has also been published directly on the town's website.
She said she has learned from this experience that representing her community "means welcoming ways to unlearn racism, to invite cultural sensitivity training, and ways of educating myself and others on what it means to be a better leader."
Laboucan said would like McGregor to address the communities she pointed out in her initial comments and stated McGregor's online apology wasn't satisfactory.
"She apologizes to everybody," said Laboucan.