A day after resigning as mayor of South Bruce Peninsula, Garry Michi has apologized for his comments about a local water treatment plant and people in the First Nation community in Ontario.
"I deeply regret the words I used during a personal conversation and the subsequent impact they have had," said Michi in an email to CBC News.
"I want to acknowledge the harm caused by my ignorant, insensitive and poorly chosen words, and I want to sincerely apologize for the damage this has caused to the relationship between myself, the town and the First Nations community."
Michi was recorded in an audio clip that was posted Friday by an anonymous individual. In it, he questions the federal government's decision to fund a water treatment plant on the Chippewas of the Nawash Unceded First Nation, also known as Cape Croker.
The comments drew immediate fire from Indigenous groups and calls for Michi's resignation, which came following an in-camera meeting Tuesday at the township office.
In the 43-second clip, Michi is heard talking about the plant that opened in Cape Croker 25 years ago. He claims the plant was ruined because community members didn't maintain it, and questions the $65 million spent to set up new hydrant and water plants.
"And 75 per cent of those houses? I mean, they should be torn down," he said in the recording. "It's like why are we spending $65 million on a water treatment plant up there that's going to last 20 years because they're not going to look after it. Just look at their homes. I can understand to be poor, but you can be poor and clean."
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Cody Groat, an assistant professor in Indigenous studies at Western University in London, Ont., spoke to CBC London Morning about the controversy.
"I have a feeling that these beliefs are held by many people within southwestern Ontario, unfortunately, and this was an instance where it was recorded on tape, and I think that it was the right decision and the inevitable decision to resign from office," Groat said.
"But again, I think it was based on a lot of misconceptions that are held about Indigenous people.
"I think there is a lot of problems that are deeply embedded within these remarks. And again, I think regrettably they're shared by a lot of people in in our province," he added.
Michi vows to learn from this experience
Michi said Wednesday that when he became mayor — he was elected in the October municipal elections — he wanted to "enhance our relationship with the First Nations people. But my words [in the audio recording] were completely out of line with that objective and I take full responsibility for my words. There is no excuse for my behaviour and I am committed to learning from this experience."
The former mayor said he recognized his own privilege clouded his judgment and he spoke without proper understanding.
"I make no attempt to justify this. I hope that with time and effort, I can rebuild the trust and respect that our friends and neighbours deserve."
Michi said he is grateful the community is holding him accountable for his words and admits the language he used shouldn't be tolerated.
He said he would personally apologize to Chief Greg Nadjiwan of the Chippewas of Nawawh Unceded First Nation.
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