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Grand Chief calls Liberal Sullivan's comments on First Nations 'totally out of touch'

Calling them "bright shining stars" and "good, prosperous tribes," Liberal MLA candidate and former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan praised First Nations in Osoyoos and Kamloops for the way they are "joining in the economy."

Speaking as a surrogate for Premier Clark at a May 6 all candidates meeting at Kitsilano High School in the premier's riding of Vancouver-Point Grey, Sullivan was responding to a question about child poverty among First Nations in B.C.

"Mr. Sullivan is totally out of touch with the tragic reality of poverty among aboriginal people," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs by phone.

"These comments from Sullivan reflect a world view based in the structural racism in this country that is always eager to pit 'good Indians' against 'bad Indians,'" the grand chief said.

Phillips said that Clark and the BC Liberals are out of touch with the aboriginal file and have done little or nothing to engage First Nations.

"At least the NDP tries to address poverty on the ground. The Liberals want to rely on a kind of 'scratch and win' economics based on hopes about liquid natural gas revenues 20 years in the future," he said.

The Tyee also spoke with Chief Shane Gottfreidson of the Tk'emlups band outside of Kamloops, who was pleased to hear about Sullivan's praise, but cautioned against using his group's business success as a way of criticizing other bands.

"We are open for business," the chief said, explaining that his band had lease relationships with over 350 companies and was currently involved in an award-winning housing development project. However, he cautioned that it was not realistic to expect every First Nation to be able to engage the economy as much as his had.

"In business," he said, "it's all about location and the market. We're in an ideal position, close to Kamloops and the highway. Many bands are remote and rural. Economic activity isn't so easy for them."

Terry Teegee, the Tribal Chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council near Prince George, agreed. He told The Tyee that "I think Mr. Sullivan in misinformed. I take offence at his comments. Bands like Kamloops are fortunate in their location close to infrastructure, but 85 per cent of reserves are remote and rural. He should also know, as Dr. Cindy Blackstock has shown, that federal child welfare transfers for on-reserve kids are lower than those that go to non-reserve kids."

Contacted by email, Sullivan told the Tyee, "I wasn't aware that I used the word 'tribe.' My thoughts about child poverty are much more nuanced than what I was able to fit into the 90 seconds I was allocated."

Sullivan, a candidate in Vancouver-False Creek, was representing the premier at the all candidates' debate. To date, Clark has refused to appear on stage with her main opponent in the riding, the NDP's David Eby, insisting that she wants to focus on debating NDP leader Adrian Dix.

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy beats for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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