The comedy duo of Williams and Ree has been inundated with hate mail and has had concerts in Canada cancelled because of what many called racist comments during a tribute concert for the Humboldt Broncos in late April.
“I can count on one hand the complaints that we had up until this one,” said Terry Ree who was reached by APTN Investigates in Florida after a show. “You know the complaints that the people who were usually offended were usually drunk white people who didn’t understand what we’re doing. Certainly to call us racist is the furthest thing from our minds. We just had fun.
“We had fun and soon realized that we were actually doing more good than harm because we were showing people how stupid it is to be racist and to hate.”
The Casino Regina cancelled a May 24 engagement after their performance April 27 in Saskatoon caused an uproar on social media.
The duo, comprising of Bruce Williams and Ree who also call themselves The Indian and The White Guy, tour North America with their show combining music with comedy that plays on stereotypes.
Ree said Williams had already apologized on the group’s Facebook page but it was deleted because of the response it received.
“Hundreds, hundreds of hate mail. Death threats you know. I mean vulgarity, like I can cuss with the best of them but I’m telling you it was crass,” he said, “So I just said ‘take that whole thing down.’”
The April 27 incident came to light after an Instagram post by Miriam Dreaver.
“Got asked to come to the Humboldt concert. Left early though. I’m all about supporting other humans but when the MC says ‘country girl shake it for me now, shake it for me, shake it for me, shake it for the Indians with the STDs’ and everyone in there, except my friend and I, roared with laughter,” Dreaver wrote.
The post has since been deleted after Dreaver began receiving hateful messages.
She said that there were many more supportive and positive comments than negative ones.
Unfortunately, the negative ones were often personal and vulgar, she said.
When reached by APTN, Ree, who is Sioux, said that he and his partner Williams (who is not Indigenous) were working in Seattle when Country Thunder proposed the concert.
They immediately agreed and left Seattle on the Friday of the tribute concert, travelled all day and performed that night.
“So we had very little sleep Thursday night, drove to the Seattle airport early morning, we flew to Saskatoon and got off the plane at five o’clock. We went to the venue at seven o’clock. The show started and we did what we do,” Ree said.
They performed between musical acts and were well into the show when the incident occurred.
When APTN spoke to Dreaver she said she was there with her friend Bernadette Anaskon and they were the only visibly Indigenous people in their vicinity.
She told APTN that she has a good sense of humour but the comedy that night didn’t sit well with her. When Williams and Ree started singing she had an immediate reaction.
“As soon as I heard the tone of their song, like as soon as I heard them start singing, I was like here we go. It’s like I knew it was coming. And then boom and I was like ‘nah I don’t want to stay here,’” she said.
Others also weighed in on the controversy by posting on the Country Thunder Foundation Facebook page.
“Pretty sad that you use this tragedy to slam another race with your comments,” Rhonda Copegag posted. “Last I checked we are all human and all bleed the same color. Guess you never thought that this whole world was mourning this tragedy also, including the ‘[I]ndians’. I am disgusted by your actions.”
Bernadette Anaskon also offered her opinion on the promoter’s Facebook page.
“Even though I’m for Humboldt and what they stand for because I relate, being a hockey mom but to hear tonight from one of the announcers and his ridiculous comment. I’m amazed at the ignorance of our society,” she said.
Anaskon attended the event with Dreaver. She told APTN that they were there having a good time laughing when they heard the song line.
They both looked at each other and immediately decided to leave.
“My initial reaction to hearing what he said, as we were busy laughing, talking and having a good time, it was like OK wait what?” Anaskon said. “You know I looked at her and I was like shocked. And I was standing and I’m like did he just say that and then she said yeah. I said oh my god, why would he say that? And then she’s like are you ok? I look around and I’m like geez. And then she was like are you OK and I’m like No. She’s like you do you want to leave? I’m like yeah let’s go.”
Anaskon was there to support the Humboldt Broncos.
“My kid is around that age. He made pre-season with the Blackhawks for Beardy’s and you know it was his dream to jump on the bus. And he goes as a stats person and a trainer for a bantam team in Regina. And you know they lost one of those of guys, you know a 16-year-old on the bus, so it pulls on my heartstrings” she said.
Facebook threats and insults were hurled in both directions, by Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike, according to both Dreaver and Ree.
Dreaver, in a follow up Facebook post after deleting the initial post said she didn’t intend to promote hate.
“I just wanted to say. I don’t promote hate or anger but what happened at that show was inappropriate in my eyes. I wasn’t a fan of the jokes, especially at this time, and that’s OK,” she said.
Ree felt otherwise.
“It certainly did invoke hate,” he said. “You know, hundreds of people who have never seen us and have no idea what we do sent hate mail and we lost a job. They cancelled us at Regina at the casino where we played every other year since the casino started.”
SaskGaming, the corporate body for Casino Regina, offered the following statement by email: “Due to content concerns stemming from the recent Humboldt Broncos tribute concert, Casino Regina has made the decision to cancel the Williams and Ree comedy show originally scheduled for May 24, 2018 in the Show Lounge. All ticket holders will be refunded using their original method of payment.”
Saskatoon resident, concert attendee, and former APTN corresondent Larissa Burnouf, shared Casino Regina’s Facebook announcement with the following comment.
“Bravo Casino Regina!! Racist ‘jokes’ at a tribute concert for the Humboldt Broncos is not acceptable and we were all extremely offended by the things these men were saying at the show. I will never attend another Country Thunder production again,” Burnouf wrote.
Country Thunder Music Festivals is a promoter and organizer of concerts and music festivals like the Craven Country Jamboree in Saskatchewan.
Despite the cancellation in Regina the duo is slated to host the Craven Country Music Jamboree this summer and will be opening for The Bellamy Brothers at River Cree Casino in Edmonton in November.
Country Thunder Music Festival Foundation sponsored the event with proceeds going the victims and families of the tragic motor vehicle collision on April 6 that took the lives of 16 people.
APTN reached out to Country Thunder but calls were not returned.
Ree wanted people to know they are about having fun.
“I just want anybody who thinks we are hate, come see the show. You know, we tell them up front that we’re not politically correct and if you’re easily offended this might not be the place for you. And then we do what we do,” he said.