Schools in Ontario are facing backlash after burning or destroying books deemed offensive to First Nations, including classic comics such as Tintin and Asterix.
The book burning, labelled an act of “flame purification”, was first undertaken in 2019 by the Providence Catholic School Board, a French-language school board in southwestern Ontario that manages 23 primary schools and seven secondary schools.
According to a report from French-language broadcaster Radio Canada, the first incident saw books ceremonially burned, with the ashes then used as fertiliser to plant a tree. Other burnings were planned but halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We bury the ashes of racism, discrimination, and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where everyone can live in prosperity and security,” a video created by the school board for students said.
"[T]he anger that's out there against the federal govt, against institutions like the Catholic church; it is real and it is fully understandable given the shameful history… the terrible intergenerational trauma… we are all collectively responsible" https://t.co/Y8p7vgg2Ji
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Suzy Kies, a so-called “custodian of indigenous knowledge”, defended the burning of the books, saying: “People panic over burning books, but we are talking about millions of books that have negative images of Indigenous people, that perpetuate stereotypes, that are really damaging and dangerous.”
However, more recent reports have alleged that Kies, who describes herself as “an urban Indigenous woman of Abenaki and Montagnais descent”, and has worked with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party as co-chair of its Aboriginal Commission, is actually not indigenous at all.
Radio Canada say they found that after searching historical records and consulting with First Nations councils, that Kies had absolutely no First Nations ancestors since 1780.
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Dominique Ritchot, the coordinator of the French-Canadian Genealogical Society, said that Kies might have First Nations ancestors from the 17th century, a trait she shares with thousands of other French Canadians.
Liberal Party leader and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented on the book burnings, saying: “On a personal level, I would never agree to the burning of books.” But he also noted that it was not for non-indigenous people “to tell Indigenous people how they should feel or act to advance reconciliation”.
Trudeau relayed a similar message over the summer as dozens of Canadian churches were vandalised or set on fire in reaction to the alleged discovery of unmarked graves in Canadian residential schools.
Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole was less ambiguous in his comments, saying: “A Conservative government will be committed to reconciliation. But the road to reconciliation does not mean tearing down Canada. I strongly condemn the burning of books.”
Since the outrage over the destruction, the Providence Catholic School Board has announced it will pause burning books.
A spokesman for the board, Lyne Cossette, also expressed shock after learning that Ms Kies may not actually be indigenous, saying: “We were certain that Suzy Kies was of Indigenous descent… We had relied on her word.”
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