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Hold Calgary Public Library Programming Accountable to Treaty 7 Nations and Métis Region 3

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April 27, 2017

Open Letter To the Leadership of the Calgary Public Library Regarding Aboriginal History Month Literary Programming, Joseph Boyden’s Reading and Holding the Library Accountable to Treaty 7 Nations and the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3

Dear Bill Ptacek (Chief Executive Officer), Calgary Public Library; Paul McIntyre Royston (Director, External Relations), Calgary Public Library; and Janet Hutchinson (Board Chair), Calgary Public Library:

We the undersigned are writing to urge you to hold your programming accountable to Treaty 7 Nations and the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. We also wish to voice our opposition to the nature of Calgary Public Library’s Aboriginal History Month literary programming (we are including Joseph Boyden’s reading at the Central Library on Monday, May 1st in this objection). Most urgently, the absence of representation from any Tribal member of Treaty 7 is an egregious error. It is unconscionable that your “In This Together” program of May 31—billed as a “launch [of] Aboriginal History month”— includes no speakers from any local Indigenous communities. In your strategic plan of 2015-2018, you emphasize the importance of “the library in the community,” and your stated mission “is to inspire life stories.” With this in mind, and with your “promise to take responsibility for your actions,” we ask that you revise your “In This Together” program to include Indigenous voices from local Treaty 7 communities. After all, how can we be “in this together” without them?

There are numerous local Indigenous people of Treaty 7 that you could invite to speak from the Chiefs of the various nations—Chief Lee Crowchild (Tsuut’ina Nation), Chief Roy Fox (Blood Tribe), Chief Stanley Grier (Piikani Nation), Chief Joseph Weasel Child (Siskika Nation)— to any one of the Siskika Traditional Knowledge Keepers associated with Old Sun College or the members of the Red Crow Community College Elders Advisory Council. There are filmmakers like Cowboy Smithx (Blackfoot from Piikani and Kainai), who was voted one of 16 Indigenous Movers and Shakers to watch in 2016 by APTN and is the creator and curator of RedX Talks;  actors like Michelle Thrush (Cree from Calgary); choreographers like Arik Pipestream (Tsuut’ina), who is the director of Pipestream Performing Arts and Troy Emery Twigg (Blackfoot, Kainai), who was the choreographer of Making Treaty 7; jewelers like Albertine Crow Shoe (Piikani Nation), who owns Bull Plume Studio; educators like Siipiisai’pia’ki (Vivian Ayoungman), who is the Principal Researcher and Developer of Old Sun Community College. There are also many vibrant members of the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3, such as historian and University of Calgary professor, Dr. Heather Devine. This list is far from exhaustive.

Regarding your decision to host and promote author Joseph Boyden at the Central Library on Monday, May 1st, 2017, we wish to express our displeasure with this programming choice and to ask for more community consultation and sensitivity in the future. As writers, artists, activists, professors, and community members, we contend that Boyden’s elusiveness about his ties to any particular Indigenous community alongside his questionable public conduct with regard to his involvement in the “UBC Accountable” affair make him at the very best a tone-deaf choice as a featured guest speaker. Moreover, he admitted in a statement dated and published January 11, 2017 to “bringing [Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls] into an unrelated public debate.” This alone should be enough to send the Calgary Public Library searching elsewhere for a suitable speaker.

 On December 23, 2016, Jorge Barrera of APTN published an article, “Author Joseph Boyden’s shape-shifting Indigenous identity,” in which he raised serious questions about the veracity of Boyden’s claim to Indigenous ties. As of today, Boyden has failed to adequately address Barrera’s questions and concerns. Furthermore, Boyden has misrepresented the meaning of Two-Spirit when, in an interview for Nuvo magazine, he referred to himself as “Two-Spirit” because he lives in two places. The term actually indicates a gender identity in Indigenous cultures via its spiritual dimension, and in a time when Indigenous LGBTQ2+ are particularly marginalized and their specificities erased through teachings about gender such as those perpetrated by Indian Residential Schools, having a speaker misrepresent and appropriate the term Two-Spirit further harms this community. 

 In his statement of January 11, 2017, Boyden characterizes himself as “a white kid from Willowdale” and admits that he has “been too vocal on many Indigenous issues in this country.” He goes on to say: “That should go to those with deeper roots in their communities.” It is therefore perplexing that, rather than taking him up on this deferral towards other Indigenous writers’ voices, the Calgary Public Library chose instead to invite Boyden as a paid speaker.

There are many, many talented Indigenous literary voices beyond Treaty 7 who have much deeper roots in their communities and whom we would much rather listen to and meet in person to “explore the experiences of Indigenous peoples, and the issues of history, culture and reconciliation in a complex world,” as you put it in your strategic plan. Here are just a few who have recently published books: Jordan Abel (Injun—which has just been nominated for the 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize which will be announced this June), City of Regina Fiction Award winner, Dawn Dumont (Glass Beads), McNally Robinson Aboriginal Book of the Year Award winner, Marilyn Dumont (The Pemmican Eaters),  Griffin Poetry Prize winner, Liz Howard (Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent), Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize winner, Eden Robinson (Son of A Trickster), Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize winner, Gregory Scofield (Witness, I Am), Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (This Accident of Being Lost), Governor General’s Award winner, Katherena Vermette (The Break).

To sum up, we call on you to change our library’s “In This Together” programming, while there is still time to do so. We raise our voices to ask that you include local Treaty 7 Nation and Métis Nation of Alberta (Region 3) voices,  and enlist their knowledge and expertise to choose more appropriate literary presenters at both the local and inter/national level, going forward.


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