A Canada Day op-ed that ran in a local Saskatchewan newspaper generated controversy due to its claims about residential schools.
The article titled “We have nothing to be ashamed of on Canada Day” offended some tribal peoples and allies in southern Saskatchewan.
Indigenous activist Summer Stonechild was shocked when she found the item after leaving a ceremony at Sundance.
“It was very disturbing to walk out of a ceremony and understand that this publication was available in Tract Four,” he said.
The article, written by columnist Brian Giesbrecht, was published in the Fort Times, a local newspaper in Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask.
“I was trying to wish everyone a Happy Canada Day, and I was also trying to reassure people that Canada is not a genocidal country,” Giesbrecht said of the article.
The article criticized Kevin Annett, a former United Church of Canada minister, for “inventing” stories of priests killing children and hiding the bodies, and for believing what Giesbrecht calls “conspiracy theories.”
“I call them conspiracy theories because that’s what they are,” Giesbrecht said.
Giesbrecht said he believes there are legitimate searches for burial sites for children from remote communities who have died of disease.
“There was just no way to notify the parents that the child was sick,” he said.
Stonechild is asking the Fort Times to retract the story.
Indigenous activist Summer Stonechild feels the op-ed should be retracted. (Stacey Hein/CTV News)
“People find it hard to believe our traumas because they were kept apart from the real stories,” Summer Stonechild said.
Grasslands News Group, the publisher behind the Fort Times, said the views expressed in the column do not reflect those of the publication itself, in a statement to CTV News.
“It was the opinion of someone who we feel our readers have a right to see,” Grasslands News Group said.
However, a local business was so upset with the article that it decided to stop dealing with the newspaper altogether.
“We decided to pull it, our customer base is primarily indigenous people,” said Jenna Cyr, manager of Becky’s Place, a business in Fort Qu’Appelle, “we decided not to advertise with them as well.”
Grasslands News said he hoped the article would spark a conversation about reconciliation.
While being interviewed, Stonechild held up a feather and sweet grass to symbolize her support for the reconciliation.
“I do not discredit our non-indigenous community for wanting to celebrate [Canada Day] but there must be a reflection on the truth behind what Canada is,” said Stonechild.
If you are a former struggling residential school student, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line at 1-866-925- 4419, or the Indian Residential School Survivors Society Toll Free at 1-800-721-0066.
Additional mental health support and resources for indigenous peoples are available. available here.