The Blackfoot Confederacy has called on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to fire his speechwriter over comments made in a 2013 essay about residential schools.
The essay written by now-Kenney speechwriter Paul Bunner was titled “The ‘Genocide’ That Failed” and was published in a right-wing online publication called the C2C Journal.
The essay argued that the narrative around residential schools amounts to a “bogus genocide story.”
The essay also argued that First Nations leaders have worked to suppress “media attempts to add some balance to the history of residential schools” and that some Indigenous people have spoken positively about residential schools.
“Bunner’s views on residential schools are offensive, dehumanizing and [have] hurt our treaty relationship,” Blackfoot community member Judge Eugene Creighton said in a statement. “These stereotypes of First Nations fuel systemic racism that we’re struggling with right now in Treaty no. 7, Alberta and Canada.”
“If Bunner’s views have changed, he needs to demonstrate that.”
The Blackfoot Confederacy, comprised of the Siksika, Kainai and Pikani nations within Blackfoot treaty lands, said it is calling for the provincial government to demonstrate anti-racist views, adding that continued collaboration between the province and the Blackfoot Confederacy is key for an inclusive Alberta.
“The Alberta government should ensure that their actions reflect the true intent of their words and agreements with us,” Blood Tribe and Kainai First Nation Chief Roy Fox said in a statement.
“Some of our residential school survivors and their multi-generational families continue to be blamed by others as a result of their experience as victims, and these misguided statements by government representatives only encourage continued racism against Indigenous people.”
According to Siksika Nation Chief Ouray Crowfoot, Bunner’s comments have damaged the relationship between First Nations in Alberta and the provincial government. Crowfoot said that a protocol agreement was signed in 2008 with Blackfoot leaders in an effort to improve that relationship.
In a one-on-one interview with Global Lethbridge, Kenney said that Bunner has had a 40-year career as a journalist and opinion writer, and that he may have written things that he disagrees with and others may find offensive. Kenney noted that none of the views Bunner has expressed in previous articles have come up in his work in the premier’s office.
“In virtually every product that he’s prepared for me, there is a deliberate effort to recognize the nobility of the First Nations, our historic debt to our First Nations and the obligation to ensure full social inclusion and reconciliation with Indigenous people,” Kenney said.
“I’m sure that his views on issues have developed and changed, and when it comes to issues like Indigenous schools, many of us over the past 15 years have been on a path of learning about that.”
According to Kenney, Bunner has met with residential school survivors to listen to their experiences since his comments were made public in late June.
Kenney noted that his government is working closely with First Nations across the province to open up economic opportunities through the Indigenous Opportunities Corporation.
When asked if these comments would impact further trust-building between the provincial government and First Nations, Kenney said that he speaks for the government of Alberta. He pointed to a speech he made in the legislature about “the fundamentally racist nature of the Aboriginal residential school system.”
“Most important is how we act to knock down barriers of exclusion and social marginalization to create true equality of opportunity,” Kenney said.
“For me, while we all must condemn racism as a sickness of the soul, we must focus on practical measures that ensure full inclusion in our society, full economic opportunity, full equality of opportunity, and that’s the agenda of the government that I lead.”
Prior to speechwriting for Kenney, Bunner wrote speeches for former prime minister Stephen Harper, former federal cabinet minister Rona Ambrose and former Alberta Opposition leader Danielle Smith.
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