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North Cowichan Mayor regrets not crediting Indigenous Councillor in social-media “rant"

'I should have attributed it,’ says Al Siebring 

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring’s recent Facebook “rant” against racism went viral and earned him wide-spread news media coverage and far-ranging praise for his leadership. One individual even suggested he run for Premier. 

 

But there’s more to the story.

 

Freedom-of-information documents obtained by sixmountains.ca show that Siebring offered “sincere apologies” to Cowichan Tribes Councillor Stephanie Atleo for drawing on her words for part of his Jan. 10 rant — without giving her credit.

“The Times Colonist has reached out to me with respect to the notion that I stole part of your post on Covid in my ‘rant,’” Siebring says in a note to Atleo. (https://bit.ly/3v87MvA)

 

“I want to apologize and explain.

 

“On Saturday night, in my social media scrolling, I came across your post. (And to be honest, I was paying absolutely no attention to who had written it. I didn’t know it was you.. it was literally just another post that crossed my screen.)

 

“But I thought it made some excellent points.

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“So good, in fact, that I jotted some of them down as notes when I saw them on Saturday night. I’d been pondering the piece I was going to write on Sunday..  and left those notes on my desk for reference. The next morning I posted what I did.. and incorporated your points into my rant the next day.. admittedly without attribution.

 

“I should have attributed it; I believe the comments — coming from an elected CT councillor — would have had even more impact if I’d done that.

 

“But as I said, I wasn’t even paying attention to who had written them, I just thought it was an excellent argument with respect to the double standards that are at play here.

 

“Sincere apologies.

 

“Anything I can do to set this straight. Let me know, Ok?”

 

Atleo wrote in response: “Thank you for reaching out. I read your post and was happy to see you reiterated my post. I appreciate you messaging me now. I would appreciate reference to me as a leader sharing those points (sic) would help going forward.”

 

Siebring promised to “go back now and edit the post to reference that these thoughts originally came from you.” He then added to the rant: “But, as Cowichan Tribes Councillor Stephanie Atleo indicated on her FB page….”

 

In an interview this week with sixmountains.ca, Atleo said she was not the one who complained to the Times Colonist about Siebring using her comments without attribution.

 

Members of her community had expressed concern about the “attention always going to the non-First Nations person who speaks out about it — not the First Nations that is actually experiencing it,” Atleo said.

 

She noted that one individual commented to her that Siebring, a former Duncan radio broadcaster, “knows better” than to use comments without attribution.

 

Atleo wrote in her Jan. 9 Facebook post that COVID was brought to Canada 10 months ago “by many,” none of whom were Coast Salish First Nation members. “Not once during this did we look at every non-indigenous person and assume you had COVID. We did not tell any of you to come back to work or to our businesses when the pandemic is over. Not once did we comment on any news article about the spread and say ‘oh those “white” people are spreading it on the island!’”  

 

Here’s what Siebring posted on Jan. 10: “But NOT ONCE during that 10 month period did we ever hear of Tribes members looking at every non-indigenous person with the assumption that they had COVID. We didn't hear any calls for all white people to stay away from their jobs until the pandemic is over. I didn't see a single social media post or news article where Cowichan Tribes members were complaining that it was ‘those white people' who were spreading the virus all over the Island.”

 

An individual whose named was redacted from the FOI documents complained to the Times Colonist, one of several news outlets that published Siebring’s rant verbatim.

 

Dave Obee, publisher of the Times Colonist, emailed Siebring on the evening of Jan. 11, saying that someone had “protested to us, and I imagine to you as well, that you took a bunch of your rant” from another post made on Saturday.  

 

“Is that the case?”

 

“Yes and no,” Siebring quickly responded.

 

"Yes in the sense that — in my social media scrolling — I came across a post that expressed those sentiments. I thought they were excellent points. (And I didn't even realize — until your email — it was (name redacted) who had written the original stuff.) 

 

“But I simply jotted some notes down on the post is (sic) when I saw it Saturday night. I slept on it — often do that when I write stuff like this, and incorporated those points into my rant the next day — admittedly without attribution.

 

“Equally, what I wrote was based on the notes…it wasn't a ‘cut and paste.’ So in that sense, the answer is no." 

 

Siebring promised to look into it, and immediately contacted Atleo.

 

The Mayor got back to Obee that same evening to report: “It looks like we’re all good.”

 

Freedom-of-information documents show Siebring had problems with all the attention generated by his rant.

 

On Jan. 11, he wrote: “What's astonishing to me is how a call for simple human decency is generating all this attention. 145-thousand views of the FB post now. 3-thousand shares. I've been doing media interviews since 6 this morning.. with more to come. 

 

“Really?? What the hell is wrong with people when a simple statement like mine generates all this interest?”

 

(Photos: Al Siebring and Stephanie Atleo)

 

— Larry Pynn, March 9, 2021

 

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