An Ontario francophone school board held a symbolic book burning to advocate reconciliation and support Indigenous peoples. The board now regrets the move, which received sharp condemnation from leaders nationwide.
Radio Canada first reported the “flame purification” ceremony by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence who burned some 30 books for “educational purposes.” The board, which oversees elementary and secondary schools in southwestern Ontario, said the books’ ashes were then 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,” according to a video about the book burning. More than 4,700 across 30 schools have since been destroyed or are in the process of being recycled, Radio Canada reported.
Lyne Cossette, the board’s spokesperson, told the National Post that they formed a committee with input from “many Aboriginal knowledge keepers and elders.” They “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English — was intended “to make a gesture of openness and reconciliation by replacing books in our libraries that had outdated content and carried negative stereotypes about First Nations, Métis and Inuit people.”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.