Nanaimo newspaper publisher says racist letter controversy a "non-story"

The publisher of a Vancouver Island newspaper caught in the midst of a flaring controversy after publishing a “hate-filled letter” about First Nations people says the issue is a “non-story” that was an “unfortunate incident” and it was time to “move on.”

By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The publisher of a Vancouver Island newspaper caught in the midst of a flaring controversy after publishing a “hate-filled letter” about First Nations people says the issue is a “non-story” that was an “unfortunate incident” and it was time to “move on.”

Nanaimo Daily News publisher Hugh Nicholson said the newspaper had tightened up its vetting process after the newspaper published a letter Wednesday titled, “Educate First Nations to be modern citizens,” which was penned by Nanaimo, B.C., resident Don Olsen.

Nicholson said the letter should never have been published and it has been pulled off the newspaper’s website.

The newspaper also posted an apology on its website Thursday.

“While we would defend Mr. Olsen’s right to hold and express his opinion, the sentiments expressed were entirely his own and in no way reflect the views of the newspaper,” it said. “The letter should not have run. We apologize for any distress this may have caused our readers.”

Nicholson said the paper would print the apology “close to the front” of the Friday edition.

He said no one in the newsroom would face reprimand over the issue.

“Every day we make decisions about stories that we cover and letters that you run,” said Nicholson. “People make mistakes and they are fallible.”

The letter has plunged the newspaper into the midst of a raging controversy which has manifested through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and at the doors of the newspaper which saw protesters gather there on Thursday.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo travelled to Nanaimo to express solidarity with the protestors.

The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council issued a statement Thursday saying they would be “cutting ties” with the newspaper for printing the “hate-filled letter.”

The tribal council said it would cease printing its own newspaper at a press owned by the company that owns the newspaper.

“The decision to publish it was meant to offend. And we are offended. It was meant to insult and we are insulted. It was meant to incite and we have responded,” said the tribal council’s vice-president Ken Watts, in the statement.

Nicholson said there was no debate in the newsroom around the letter before it was given the go-ahead for publishing. He said the decision was based on a “judgement call” that was wrong.

“People are trying to do the best job they can in a limited amount of time,” he said.

The letter, written by Olsen claimed First Nations people never invented anything and were incapable of taking care of themselves. Olsen also claimed First Nations people “have a history that is notable only for underachievement.”

Olsen is described as being about 80 years-old with an interest in woodcarving, according to members of the Nanaimo Probus club. Olsen is a long-time member of the club. He is the one who usually collects money and crosses people’s names off the list during club events, said the club’s president.

“He is fabulous,” said club president Kathleen Saunders. “All I know is that (Olsen) is a really nice guy and has a really great sense of humor.”

Another club member who requested anonymity given the controversy around the man said Olsen also tells “racy jokes” and was “up in arms” over Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence during her protest fast which began last December and ended this past January.

“Some older people are more conservative and maybe have biases,” said the club member.

At the request of a reporter, the club member asked Olsen if he would be willing to submit to an interview. Olsen told the club member, “He had no comment.”

Olsen did not return repeated phone calls.

Olsen is also a member of the Mid Island Carving Club and, in an interview last year with the Nanaimo Bulletin, said he considered himself an artist. The article said Olsen liked to carve birds, wolves, deer and moose. He has also won awards for his work.

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6 thoughts on “Nanaimo newspaper publisher says racist letter controversy a "non-story"

  1. The point that people like Mr. Olsen completely miss is that while it is true that Indigenous people did not invent the wheel, they did not invent nuclear warheads, either. I am as appalled at the editor’s response as I am to the original letter. And as a Vancouver Islander, I also feel shame.

  2. It’s too bad they removed the letter. It would have been nice to be able to read it and judge for our selves. If Mr Olsen was stating an opinion that we should stop handing the natives billions of dollars of our hard earned tax money I think a large number of tax payers would tend to agree. Why shouldn’t they have to earn a living, pay taxes, and pay for their homes just like the rest of us. If I chose to not work and run my house and property into the ground the government wouldn’t be coming to my rescue.

  3. Indeed! And perhaps the letter writer wrote his letter after sitting down to a dinner of mashed potatoes and corn flavoured with some hot peppers and ketchup, and some cooked turkey breast, and then had a desert of chocolate and vanilla flavoured ice cream. After writing the letter he went out to have a smoke and then came back to turn on the TV and hear about a hurricane (Mayan word) which made him think back to his canoe trip last summer. He took out a pack of gum and started chewing. He was quite tired out and cranky because he had taken his son to lacrosse practice earlier in the evening but drove back and forth confidently using very good quality rubber tires on his wheels. There was so much snow he wished he had brought his snowshoes when he got out of the car! Then he watched a basketball game (based on Aztec tlachtli.) After the game, the news came on where the big issue was the state of Confederation (the term and concept taken from the 18th Century translation of the Great Law of the Iroquois) in Canada (Iroquoian word meaning “city”) and hearing that Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon were all prepared to “bury the hatchet” and “smoke the peace pipe” and were planning to meet next month at Toronto (all the place names are Native) symbolically at around the time of the Maple Sugar harvest. Before bed he turned on the radio to calm his nerves down after writing his emotional letter, listening to Hispanic rhythms from Latin America, then not being able to sleep he watched dancers dancing to these beats on Youtube (Latin American music and dancing is of Native origin.) Then he logged onto the ancestry site just “to make sure” and came across an ancestor 150 years ago with the last name “Windigo” and another one called “Wandering Spirit” which he dismissed as having to be Welsh. His thoughts turned to his son whom he felt needed to spend some time going on a “dream quest” to “find himself” before going off to university. He figured a good solid summer spent canoeing and fishing at a camp might help his son to mature into a man. Before dozing off into the land of dreams, he thought back to a Monty Python film and said to himself, “What have the Natives ever done for us?”

  4. Reagardless maybe a little history lesson to an old dog like Mr Olsen we the Indigenous People of Canada never had to build or invent anything that would be technically progressive because we never had to fight to survive until the white man came with his mind base to conquer and rife with desease’s its that simple even the old can be ignorant why should we build something when the rest of the world is already destroying the world wiping out whole indigenous cultures around the world for the sake of progression and the almighty dollar all the indian is trying to do is protect whats being destroyed and the medias job is to work in a collusive manner with the Government to brainwash the rest of the population that we are crying about owning the land but like I said all we are trying to do is protect what is the peoples of Canada not the Canadian government….the old coot should should carve himself a Harper something to idolize

    1. Negative. As with pretty much every other culture/society in the history of humanity, conflict was a common aspect of aboriginal life in the Americas. From the Dené to the Mapuche. Read, man.

  5. See I’d believe that apology if and I mean IF it was the first time the newspaper published a letter such as that, however, as a local Indigenous in Nanaimo, I have seen and read many letters and stories about First Nation issues in that paper that are very biased against First Nation people. Mr. Olsen has sent many letters in to the Editor AND one was even published before this latest letter regarding his contempt for First Nation issues. So if the Nanaimo Daily News Bulletin does not share Mr. Olsens sentiment and knows it is, in fact, inflammatory, perhaps they need to rethink the Editors own biased regarding First Nation issues, and here’s a thought, STOP PUBLISHING THEM! I challenge Mr. Nicholsons sincerity regarding his Editors decisions, I mean an apology “close to the front” really screams I am sorry! As far as the “non-story” sentiment? I guess it is a non-story to racist bigots.

    All my relations,

    Another Under-Achiever

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