Should we burn Tintin, because it is considered offensive to the Amerindians? A literary purification carried out in 2019 in the libraries of the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence, which brings together 30 French-language schools throughout southwestern Ontario, is making waves. Nearly 5,000 children’s books were destroyed, believing that they conveyed prejudices about indigenous peoples. Among these works: Tintin in America, Asterix and the Indians, three albums of Lucky Luke, but also novels, or even encyclopedias.
In one of the schools, even held “a ceremony of purification by the flame” in order to burn about thirty banned books to work for the “reconciliation”, revealed Tuesday, September 7 Radio Canada. The ashes were used as fertilizer to plant a tree and so “turn from negative to positive”. A video intended for the pupils explained the process: it was about“bury the ashes of racism, discrimination and stereotypes in the hope of growing up in an inclusive country where all can live in prosperity and security”.
Similar ceremonies were to be held in each of the schools, but the pandemic postponed them until later. The initial idea of burning all the books was also dismissed, fearing an outcry from parents and teachers. “It is a gesture of reconciliation with the First Nations, and a gesture of openness towards the other communities present in the school and our society”, justified, with the national radio, Lyne Cossette, the spokesperson for the School Council, adding that “the books removed from libraries had outdated and inappropriate content.”
“Unreliable, lazy, drunk, stupid”
The author of the video for the students is Suzy Kies, presented as an indigenous “knowledge keeper”. She denounces the indigenous characters presented in children’s books as “unreliable, lazy, drunk, stupid”.
The school board criticizes, for example, the comic strip Tintin in America, published in 1932 – one of the best-selling author’s in the world – unacceptable language (we find in particular the name “Peau-Rouge”), erroneous information, a negative presentation of indigenous peoples and a faulty representation of Natives in the drawings. The Temple of the Sun has also been removed from the shelves.
The sexualization of Indigenous women has also bothered the Providence Catholic School Board. Suzi Kies deplores the sexualization of the Native who falls in love with Obelix in Asterix and the Indians. “The young woman is represented with a plunging neckline and a miniskirt”, she laments.
Condemnation of the political class
As soon as it was revealed, this autodafé was denounced by all political parties. The leaders of the main parties, currently campaigning for the legislative elections on September 20, have stepped up to the plate. “I never agree to burn the books”said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who however insisted on the importance of reconciliation with the First Nations.
Erin O’Toole promised that a Conservative government would commit to “reconciliation”. “But the road to reconciliation does not mean tearing Canada down. I strongly condemn the burning of books”, he wrote on Twitter. The leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP, left) Jagmeet Singh, for his part, considered that “the approach in teaching” to children “must be changed”.
It must be said that the country is still reeling from the discovery of hundreds of graves of indigenous children near Catholic boarding schools. Tens of thousands of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were forcibly conscripted into these institutions from the late 19th century to the 1990s, estranged from their families and culture. Thousands never returned.
Faced with the controversy, the group of schools announced Wednesday to suspend the destruction. Nearly 200 other books were being evaluated, the council said.
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