Island dentist chooses against treating First Nations and municipal councillors voting for wind turbines

MANITOULIN—The decision by a Gore Bay dentist to refuse service to Henry Panamick, a member of the M’Chigeeng First Nation band council, over the council’s support of wind power led to Chief Joseph Hare calling an emergency meeting of the First Nation’s governing body to investigate the incident and to decide what, if any, response was called for by the band.

Dr. Bill Studzienny has since announced that his embargo extends to both municipal and band councillors who support wind development on Manitoulin Island.

During the M’Chigeeng council meeting, Mr. Panamick described his visit to the dentist to the council, how he made an appointment, was told to come back at 2 o’clock (“I just figured they were really busy,” he said). When 2 o’clock arrived, Mr. Panamick said he was ushered into a small room by Dr. Studzienny, where the dentist informed him he would not be working on his teeth. “He said, ‘Henry I can’t work on you today’.” recalled Mr. Panamick. “I said ‘Oh, that’s alright,’ figuring it was because it was because they were too busy.” Mr. Panamick said that he and his family have been a clients of the dentist for several years. “He then said, ‘it’s on account of the windmills’,” said Mr. Panamick. “I was still waiting for the punchline.’”

[box float=”left”][polldaddy poll=7087618][/box]But it wasn’t a joke. Mr. Panamick then said that Dr. Studzienny informed him that the dentist was so upset that his hands were shaking too bad to work on his teeth. “I thought that would be alright, there are lots of dentists around,” said Mr. Panamick. “But before I left he said to me, ‘you people are very greedy.’ Well, I have a little temper myself,” continued Mr. Panamick. “But I kept my cool. I just went out and called Joe Hare.”

Mr. Panamick said that the reference to “you people” brought him back to an incident involving a racial slur while he was playing hockey. “That kind of racism stays with you,” he said. “When he said ‘you people in West Bay are very greedy,’ he is including all of the people of our community,” said Mr. Panamick. It was clearly the choice of the phrasing that had rattled the councillor and triggered his emotional response.

M’Chigeeng Councillor Robert Beaudin then relayed to the council how he had also called the dentist and was informed that the dentist would not work on his teeth either. Mr. Beaudin said the dentist told him that he should be ashamed. “He said ‘I don’t want you as a patient. Don’t call me anymore.’ And then he hung up,” recalled Mr. Beaudin.

Councillor Jerry Ense noted that his family has been going to Dr. Studzienny for 20 years. He called the dentist and asked if it was all community members that the dentist was refusing to deal with. “He said, ‘No, no, only councillors. If you are a councillor I don’t want you as a patient’,” said Mr. Ense. The councillor said that he was quizzed by the dentist on his stand on the wind turbine project, to which he responded that it was none of the dentist’s business. Councillor Ense said he asked Dr. Studzienny what his alternative to wind power might be. “‘Nuclear power’?” Mr. Ense said was the dentist’s response. “‘Do you have any idea the amount of energy it takes to take one ounce of uranium out of the ground?’” Mr. Ense said he replied.

Chief Hare said that he was concerned about the degree of anger and passion evinced by the dentist’s responses. “To me it is a form of hatred,” he said. “That says you don’t agree with me so I am going to punish you. When a person like that shows hate to one band member he is showing it to all of us. Like the Mohawks say, ‘you point a gun at one of us, you point it at the whole nation’.”

Band member Forry Hare addressed the assembly from the floor, pointing out that there was a clear division in the response to the wind turbines in Spring Bay and those put up in M’Chigeeng.

“We are trying to do something for our children,” he said. “It is okay when they do it, but is not alright when we do.”

“When he refers to ‘you people’ there is a standard that has been broken,” said Councillor Beverly Roy.

The councillors debated a course of action, with Councillor Hazel Recollet suggesting that individuals refused service should file a complaint with the college regulating the dental profession.

Chief Hare went further, suggesting that the degree of anger being exhibited by the dentist presented him with a considerable sense of alarm, with other statements being attributed to the dentist suggesting a more serious threat. “I think we should report to the RCMP,” he said. “I think he is a potential danger.”

“Radical people, they will go to any extremes,” agreed Councillor Ense.

Chief Hare said that First Nations people are amongst the least greedy people around. “When we get some money, we go out and spend it,” he said.

Ms. Recollet noted that far from being greedy, the Island’s First Nations are the strongest economic input into the region. “We are one of the main supports of the Island community,” she pointed out.

Mr. Panamick suggested that it was perhaps time the First Nation sought to attract its own dentist to service the community.

Chief Hare noted that there was a common perception in the Island community that the band had received grants to purchase the windmills that now grace the bluffs in M’Chigeeng, but that was not true. “We went out and borrowed $9 million,” he said.

The council decided to seek legal counsel on how to proceed with formal complaints to the Ontario Dental Association and the Ontario Human Rights Commission both as individuals and as council.

Dr. Studzienny did not return messages left at his business or home in the aftermath of this issue coming to light, but when finally contacted on the telephone at his home by The Expositor on Monday, he did pick up the phone to deliver a clear statement that his stance was based solely on the issue of industrial wind turbines and their impact on Manitoulin Island, not on any issue of race, creed or colour. Dr. Studzienny added a final comment before hanging up.

“I am denying service to Little Current council as well, that includes you, you are on it. Good bye,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Writer Michael Erskine also serves as a councillor on the Northeast Town council, location of the wind farm development proposed by Northland Power.

Michael Erskine