Book burning at Ontario francophone schools as 'gesture of reconciliation' denounced
Category: News & PoliticsVia: s • one week ago • 4 comments
A book burning held by an Ontario francophone school board as an act of reconciliation with Indigenous people has received sharp condemnation from Canadian political leaders and the board itself now says it regrets its symbolic gesture.
The “flame purification” ceremony, first reported by Radio Canada , was held in 2019 by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence, which oversees elementary and secondary schools in southwestern Ontario. Some 30 books, the national broadcaster reported, were burned for “educational purposes” and then the ashes were used as fertilizer to plant a tree.
“We bury the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope that we will grow up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security,” says a video prepared for students about the book burning, Radio Canada reported.
In total, more than 4,700 books were removed from library shelves at 30 schools across the school board, and they have since been destroyed or are in the process of being recycled, Radio Canada reported.
Lyne Cossette, the board’s spokesperson, told National Post that the board formed a committee and “many Aboriginal knowledge keepers and elders participated and were consulted at various stages, from the conceptualization to the evaluation of the books, to the tree planting initiative.”
“Symbolically, some books were used as fertilizer,” Cossette wrote in an email.
The project, entitled Redonnons à la terre — “give back to the earth,” in English — was intended “to make a gesture of openness and reconciliation by replacing books in our libraries that had outdated content and carried negative stereotypes about First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.”
The school library, she said, is constantly updated, and the library books on shelves have “positive and inclusive messages about the diverse communities within our schools.”
“We regret that we did not intervene to ensure a more appropriate plan for the commemorative ceremony and that it was offensive to some members of the community. We sincerely regret the negative impact of this initiative intended as a gesture of reconciliation,” Cossette wrote.
Asked about the book burning, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said it’s not up to non-Indigenous people “to tell Indigenous people how they should feel or act to advance reconciliation.”
“On a personal level, I would never agree to the burning of books,” Trudeau said.
Yves-François Blanchet, leader of the Bloc Québécois, said “we don’t burn books,” at a press conference.
“We expose ourselves to history, we explain it, we demonstrate how society has evolved or must evolve,” he said.
Asked about the report, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said, “Reconciliation is important for all Canadians and we have to have a system that does not discriminate.”
Later, O’Toole tweeted: “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.”
Jagmeet Singh, the NDP leader, said the news calls for reflection.
“I have seen negative images, cartoons, and presentation that do not respect the dignity of Indigenous communities. So I think we really need to change our approach to teaching our children,” Singh said.
A 165-page school board document includes analysis of all the books removed from shelves, Radio Canada reported.
Among them are classic titles, such as Tintin in America, which was withdrawn for its “negative portrayal of indigenous peoples and offending Aboriginal representation in the drawings.”
Also removed were books that allegedly contain cultural appropriation, as well as outdated history books, such as two biographies of Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who mapped the St. Lawrence, and another of explorer Étienne Brûlé.