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Indigenous ‘expert’ who advised book burnings at Catholic schools in Canada is not indigenous

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Indigenous ‘expert’ who advised book burnings at Catholic schools in Canada is not indigenous

Newsroom (08-10-2021 Gaudium Press) – Following up on our story Tintin is condemned by the Catholic School Board of Canada, further investigations revealed that Suzy Kies does not have Indian status under Canadian federal law.

Lyne Cossette, a spokesperson for the school board in southwest Ontario, told the Toronto Sun, “We were not aware that Suzy Kies does not have Indian status under (federal law) and sincerely believed that we had the opportunity to work with an experienced Indigenous knowledge keeper,”

“These revelations have prompted us to rethink our library review process,” Cossette said. “As such, we are pausing the entire Giving Back to Mother Earth project and reviewing how to move forward with regard to the reconciliation efforts that were at the heart of this endeavor.”

Cosette said the school board had believed Kies’ claims to be “an Indigenous woman from the Wbanaki Confederacy and the Turtle Clan.” Others had made assurances that she was of indigenous descent.

Suzy Kies, a resident of the Barrie area north of Toronto, is an advocate for indigenous Canadians. In 2017 she became co-chair of the Indigenous peoples’ commission in the Liberal Party of Canada, which has held control of the House of Commons since 2015. The announcement of her appointment noted her claims of indigenous ancestry, specifically naming several indigenous bands.

Reporters could not confirm Kies’ claims of indigenous ancestry through consulting both civil records and the Abenaki Council of Odanak, which could not find her on its member list. Kies’ father was born in Luxembourg and her mother is of French ancestry. Genealogy expert Dominique Ritchot told Radio-Canada that Kies has no indigenous ancestor “for at least seven generations.”

The school board’s review of library books was conducted by school board members and Native advisors. Kies presented herself as an indigenous “Knowledge keeper” whose memory of oral history was more reliable than written records. In remarks reported by Radio-Canada, she objected to “stories written by Europeans, from a Eurocentric perspective and not by Indigenous people.”

The school board project aimed to hold a reconciliation ceremony which burned books in 30 schools and then use the ashes as fertilizer for a tree. The Ontario Ministry of Education was involved in the ceremony project but not in deciding which books were selected.

The project was postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Only about 30 of these books were burned in a purported effort to promote reconciliation and education. The ashes were used as fertilizer for a tree.

Jacques Thériault-Watso, an elected leader with the Council of Abenakis of Odanak band, criticized Kies as  “another person who played on the fact that there are few Aboriginals in the political and institutional world.”

Marcel Levasseu, a Quebec comic book author, was among those whose books were withdrawn. His comic book series LaFleche, set centuries ago in New France, makes fun of the relationship among Aboriginal peoples, the French, and English soldiers.  Levasseu said the school board’s action made him question whether to continue work on the fourth entry for LaFleche.

“In 10 years, I have gone from almost an award winner to a banned author,” he lamented, according to Radio Canada. “Realizing that it can be so fragile, that it can become an object of shame overnight… Do I want to keep fighting?”

Jean-Claude Larocque, co-author of the removed title Le Fils des Hurons, said the authors were “very rigorous in our research” for the book, a biography of the explorer Étienne Brûlé.

There have also been prominent people who have made false claims of indigenous ancestry, to the point of alleged fraud. In May 2021, the New York Times reported on American academic Andrea Smith, who without evidence claimed to be of Cherokee ancestry and presented herself as such in books, on academic panels, and in Native American activism. She had no identifiable Native American family links. Other academics, activists and political leaders have wrongly or falsely claimed indigenous ancestry.

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