The deputy minister for the Department of Lands says he does not care if he is fired after leaving a racially charged comment on a Facebook post attacking Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly who is seeking re-election.
In a Facebook post shared by NWT Speaker Jackson Lafferty, who just days ago announced his intention to seek the premiership of the Northwest Territories, Willard Hagen, who heads the Department of Lands, wrote a profanity-laced comment Tuesday calling O’Reilly, among other things, “a white boy who thinks he has all the solutions because he is a white boy.”
Lafferty was sharing a column by NNSL publisher Bruce Valpy titled What’s wrong with Dene Land Claims in the NWT. It was published Monday. NNSL removed the comment at around 3 p.m. Lafferty’s post share was deleted altogether shortly afterwards.
“Probably,” said Hagen, when asked whether he thought he’d lose his job over the post. “Maybe they will fire me but I didn’t ask for the job.”
Hagen said he was stirred to write his comment after reading a Facebook comment by O’Reilly, noting his presence in a 1990 photograph accompanying the column that shows him at the side of former Dene Nation chief Bill Erasmus.
Hagen, a former bush pilot and founder of Aklak Air, and former chair of the Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, said he didn’t read Valpy’s column but added he is frustrated about hearing “white guys” talking about their knowledge regarding land claims.
“I didn’t read the column, I will tell you truthfully, I didn’t read the column,” he said.
“I was president of Gwich’in Tribal council and settled the first land claim in the NWT in 1992. So I just have a real problem with white guys deciding they know about how land claims have to be settled. What the hell do they know?
“I know Kevin and he is a good guy but he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get it. He sits on a platform and preaches when he doesn’t get who the people are.
“I was born in Arctic Red River and came out of poverty. This guy acts like he is the messiah and to me he is a racist.”
Still, Hagen denied he himself is “prejudiced or racist” as “some of my best friends are the Filipinos in Yellowknife.”
“We wouldn’t have half the services we have and some of them have three jobs,” he said, while insisting that immigration has been a positive for the territory.
Hagen, 70, said he was appointed to his current role in 2016 due to the generosity of Premier Bob McLeod, who he called an “amazing guy” who has done much for the North.
“I have a lot to offer and I am thankful to Bob McLeod that he realized that Hagen can maybe run the department,” he said.
The Department of Lands, which oversees the management and planning of public lands, was created in 2014 following devolution with Ottawa.
Hagen said he enjoys his job immensely, particularly his staff who he called “rock stars.”
“I love it. I am 70 years old and the part I love the most, is the people,” he said.
NNSL media reached out to O’Reilly for comment but was unsuccessful Tuesday night.