By Frank Larue
David Ahenakew died in Shellbrook Saskatchewan on Friday, March 12th at the age of 76. This man who had been chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations was also the only Aboriginal person ever charged with racism towards Jews, due to volatile statements he made in 2002. Ahenakew felt Hitler had done nothing wrong. In other words, he denied the holocaust ever existed and went event further in his revisionist diatribe by accusing Jewish people of being responsible for World War II.
In the time since the war ended, information about the Holocaust has become available through media, including first-hand accounts of survivors and soldiers as well as scholarly studies, documentaries, and epic films like Schindler’s List. Considering the racist attitudes Aboriginal people have been forced to deal with for the last two-hundred years it is difficult to understand how a man who was active in Native politics and had fought for equality for his own people could have cultivated such empathy for the godfather of fascism. It is hard to believe that a person of intelligence and position could have overlooked the facts and made such ridiculous statements.
Ahenakew was charged and convicted for inciting hatred. His statements included an endorsement of Hitler, who he said “cleaned up a lot of things, and did the right thing when he fried six million of those guys.” Ahenakew appealed the conviction and was found not guilty. He apologized and resigned from his post with the Federation of Indian Nations and was stripped of the Order of Canada. During his retrial, doctors discovered Ahenakew had cancer, and his health deteriorated quickly.
The appeal judge referred to Ahenakew’s remarks as “revolting, disgusting, and untrue” but felt they were made in ignorance and not to incite hatred. Ahenakew had been stationed in Germany as a Canadian soldier during the post-war occupation and said his information came from the German people he had met there. Lawyer Doug Christie represented Ahenakew for both his trials and said David had been ill for several years and was sorry he had made the statements. An apology on television had made up for the mistake, but certain things are never forgotten, and David Ahenakew took his shame to the grave.