Last week, the British Columbia Association of Friendship Centres (BCAAFC) held a press conference detailing “racist and disturbing” treatment of one of their cultural advisors at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver in late February.
The hotel has now apologized.
In a letter sent to BCAAFC executive director Leslie Varley on March 15, Hyatt Regency Vancouver general manager Patrick Gosselin said; “I sincerely apologize to the BCAAFC Cultural Advisor for the experience he had at our property. We have empathy for the pain this has caused him.”
The letter continued, “We deeply regret that the BCAAFC Cultural Advisor felt discriminated against at our hotel as this is not aligned with our purpose to care for people so they can be their best.”
Read more: ‘Racist’ incident at Vancouver hotel condemned by Indigenous friendship centre association
The apology detailed how the hotel is committed to learning from the experience and listed actionable steps it plans on taking; like retaining its own cultural advisor to train staff and working with Indigenous organizations to learn how they can hire, support, develop and retain Indigenous employees.
In an interview with Global News Thursday, Varley said the apology was a negotiation. “First of all, there was no apology at all, there was a sort of a denial and here’s our description of what happened,” she said. “The next apology was … kind of like I’m sorry you felt that way, and I said, ‘Well, that’s not an apology.'”
“(Then) he sent us another apology and I immediately forwarded that to our cultural advisor and asked him … whether he felt that it was acceptable.”
Varley outlined how the process was “really difficult” for their cultural advisor as he had anticipated an apology shortly after the alleged incident.
“He’s feeling empty, feels like he’s gotten hit by a truck and you know how it is with the emotions of this kind of event,” she said.
“So I did check back with him a couple of times and … he decided that he was good with the apology.”
“And to the credit of the general manager of the Hyatt, he wanted to apologize, to meet with our cultural advisor and apologize to him in person.”
When the alleged incident took place, BCAAFC was hosting a membership meeting at the hotel for staff and youth from their 25-member friendship centres.
They said after dinner their cultural advisor attempted to use the restroom but was denied access by hotel staff and ended up being “no longer (able to) control his need to use the toilet” which resulted in a “public and humiliating incident.”
The hotel said the incident occurred around 11 p.m. and the staff member was just following “overnight protocol to close restrooms in unused areas of the hotel.”
Having to go public in order to get an apology signifies to Varley that there’s still a lot of negative stereotyping and racism that happens in Canada.
“(We) have to go public to remind everybody we actually are human,” she said. “We have feelings, we have a lot of support, and we’re just not going to sit back and accept this level of racism against us anymore.”
“As long as Canada’s been a nation, we’ve had anti-Indigenous racism and it doesn’t seem to go away,” adds Varley. “It’s time for us to stop this and to move on as Canadians and to accept all Indigenous people as human beings.”
BCAAFC was set to host their Gathering Our Voices Indigenous youth event at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver next week, but the organization said it no longer felt safe hosting Indigenous youth, their families and staff at the hotel after what happened to their cultural advisor.
The First Nations Health Authority announced in a March 15 statement that they stand with BCAAFC and would no longer be hosting their upcoming First Nations Health and Wellness Summit at the hotel.
The apology has not changed BCAAFC’s plans to move the event.
“I’m responsible for a thousand Indigenous youth and we want them to strengthen their identity and strengthen their culture, become proud of who they are,” said Varley. “And I certainly don’t want any potential negative stereotyping or racism to impact their event.”