“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,” said a video Kies produced for students, Radio-Canada reports. She criticized the presentation of indigenous people as “unreliable, lazy, drunkards, stupid.”
“People are panicking about burning books, but we are talking about millions of books that have negative images of indigenous people, which perpetuate stereotypes, which are really damaging and dangerous,” Kies said.
Cosette, the school board spokesperson, had initially defended removing the books as “a gesture of reconciliation with the First Nations” and “a gesture of openness towards the other communities present in the school and our society.”
Franklin Carter of the Book and Periodical Council’s Freedom of Expression Committee published a 165-page list of the books concerned. The Book and Periodical Council characterized the treatment of the books and other material as an “act of censorship” that is “one of the worst in recent Canadian history.”
The list includes dozens of books on First Nations, Metis, Inuit, Native American and Alaska native leaders, cultures and stories, as well as fictional portrayals. Many of the books reviewed were less than two decades old.
The list faulted the removed books for alleged unacceptable language, erroneous information, misrepresentations of indigenous people in drawings, presentations of natives as the villains, or presentation of indigenous cultures as a singular culture rather than identifying their differences.
Cowboy or “Cowboys and Indians”-themed works also drew scrutiny.
A CNA review of the list does not indicate any of the targeted works concerned Catholicism or Catholic history specifically, though works about some European Catholic explorers and colonizers of the Americas were removed. These included books about Christopher Columbus, Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, and the Spanish conquistadors.
Kies had criticized an Asterix comic book’s sexualized portrayal of a buxom young Native American woman, dressed in a miniskirt and shirt with a low neckline.
“Would you run in the woods in a miniskirt? But people think so,” she said, contending that Native women were wrongly depicted as sexually available.
Disney’s portrayal of Pocahontas also came under criticism from Kies.
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“Pocahontas, she’s so sexual and sensual, for us native women it's dangerous,” she said, according to a Sept. 7 Radio-Canada report.
More than a dozen titles recommended for removal relate to Disney’s Pocahontas and its sequel, both books, music albums and videos. A French-language 2003 book adaptation of the Walt Disney movie Brother Bear should be removed, on the grounds that the Disney perspective “does not privilege the reality of indigenous cultures,” the list said. A 1987 French-language book of Walt Disney’s Hiawatha, should be removed for unacceptable language and “false representation of a native character.” Another 1988 Hiawatha book, apparently based on the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, was listed as under evaluation.
Several books about the popular Belgian comic book hero Tintin drew scrutiny. A 2010 novelization of the movie Avatar is under evaluation, as is the 1982 novel The Indian in the Cupboard. Books that featured Native American-inspired crafts for children were criticized for “cultural appropriation.”
Jacques Thériault-Watso, an elected leader with the Council of Abenakis of Odanak band, criticized Kies as “another person who played on the fact that there are few Aboriginals in the political and institutional world.” He told Radio-Canada “the Liberal Party has not done its homework, taking her at her word.”
Marcel Levasseu, a Quebec comic book author, was among those whose books were withdrawn. His comic book series LaFleche, set centuries ago in New France, makes fun of the relationship among Aboriginal peoples, the French, and English soldiers. Levasseu said the school board’s action made him question whether to continue work on the fourth entry for LaFleche.
“In 10 years, I have gone from almost an award winner to a banned author,” he lamented, according to Radio Canada. “Realizing that it can be so fragile, that it can become an object of shame overnight… Do I want to keep fighting?”