Tyler Dawson, National Post, September 7, 2021
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English — was intended “to make a gesture of openness and reconciliation by replacing books in our libraries that had outdated content and carried negative stereotypes about First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.”
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.”
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Among them are classic titles, such as Tintin in America, which was withdrawn for its “negative portrayal of indigenous peoples and offending Aboriginal representation in the drawings.”
Also removed were books that allegedly contain cultural appropriation, as well as outdated history books, such as two biographies of Jacques Cartier, a French explorer who mapped the St. Lawrence, and another of explorer Étienne Brûlé.