Facing racist social media attacks, Manitoulin Island leaders plead for tolerance
LITTLE CURRENT -- Peace and tranquility are usually two words synonymous with Manitoulin Island, but right now there is tense feeling in the air.
Elected leaders have been meeting to discuss a joint response to the COVID-19 pandemic since forming more than three weeks ago. The group, called the Manitoulin COVID-19 Leadership Coordination Committee, was created after some Island residents took exception to a non-essential travel ban imposed by M'Chigeeng First Nation.
At the time, Northeast Manitoulin and the Islands Mayor Al MacNevin called on the province to get involved in hopes of ending the traffic disruption.
While he still doesn't agree with his counterpart in M'Chigeeng, MacNevin has been taking part in the meetings and is encouraged by the dialogue.
"We're looking at updates from each community to see how we're each responding, but obviously the elephant in the room is the highway restrictions in M'Chigeeng," he said.
"We've touched on it, but we're being gentle about the discussion ... I think it at least opens the dialogue for us. We were all on our own (before)."
The actions taken along the highway have been highly divisive for many on the Island, and it has sparked social media comments the committee have agreed are racist.
They're pleading with Islanders to be respectful of one another.
"This is not a time to put out racial slurs and call people thugs and saying get out the bow and arrows and those types of things," said Aundeck Omni Kaning Chief Patsy Corbiere, who's also the chair of the UCCM Tribal Council. "This isn't the time for that and it should never be the time.
"We should be generating information and not this negativity. There's a lot of people with mental health (challenges) and this negativity can make them a lot sicker … because they're starting to respond to those types of negative behaviours."
Lisa Corbiere-Addison is a M'Chigeeng band member who petitioned the First Nation to remove the checkpoints, along with other concerned business owners.
Corbiere-Addison, also a high school teacher, says no matter the differences of opinion, people should be able to debate it respectfully.
"There have been some comments that are not appropriate at this time and kids see that," she said. "If it's modelled by our leadership, kids pick it up."
Members of the committee are also calling for Islanders to shop local during this time of uncertainty.
Traffic to Manitoulin was down this past Victoria Day weekend, and the committee wants visitors to know they're still welcome, as long as they follow safety guidleines.
"We can't discourage people from coming here, but people need to practise the safety things that are put in place, the guidelines with social distancing and making sure your wash your hands," said Chief Corbiere.
"We believe they still have that right, but we can ask them, if possible, to isolate themselves, bring their own supplies, don't be too active, running around the community," MacNevin added.
Both leaders say they are encouraged about where the group is heading and plan on supporting one another during the pandemic.
The committee meets again next Tuesday.