As controversy swirls over author Joseph Boyden’s indigenous heritage, he is set to appear as a guest speaker at a convention for Alberta teachers this weekend in Edmonton.
Boyden is scheduled to speak for one hour at 12:30 p.m. Friday at North Central Teachers’ Convention Association 2017 at the Shaw Conference Centre.
A description on the schedule says his “award-winning career has had a strong focus on the historical and contemporary experience of First Nations people.”
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, spokesperson for the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said there are about 10 different teachers conventions across the province. They are run and governed by teacher volunteers from that region. Those volunteers research and select the speakers.
“Speakers like Mr. Boyden tend to get booked well in advance of the convention,” he said. “I don’t know when specifically he was booked but he would have been booked well before the controversy came out in December.”
Teghtmeyer said the NCTCA will have dozens, if not hundreds of speakers. Roughly 20 different school boards will send representatives, he said.
He said some teachers have contacted the ATA with concerns about Boyden speaking at the convention.
“We’re aware of the controversy and we’re sensitive to teachers who might be concerned about it,” Teghtmeyer said.
“We believe that teachers are capable of critical thought around controversial issues and that they will be able to take in the various points of view on this matter.”
He added Boyden’s presentation will focus on writing.
“Mr. Boyden is being brought to the teachers convention as a nationally acclaimed author, so he’ll be speaking about writing, the writing process, being a writer, character development and storytelling.
“That’s the perspective that he’ll bring, not necessarily that of an indigenous expert.”
Teghtmeyer said the ATA is committed to the goals of truth and reconciliation and the convention will have a number of other speakers with expertise in that subject matter.
He was not able to disclose how much Boyden was being paid for the NCTCA appearance. However, he said Boyden was a “featured” speaker.
The website says speakers are reimbursed for expenses including parking, meals, mileage, flights and accommodation. Speakers are also paid an honorarium based on the length of the engagement unless they are considered a “featured session.” For instance, a guest there for a one-hour regular speaking engagement would be paid $275.
Teghtmeyer said teachers’ conventions are paid for by teachers through their association fees.
Last month, the City of Edmonton decided to cancel Boyden’s scheduled appearance at the Winter Cities Shake-Up.
Boyden signed on to speak about winter culture at the event before the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network launched an investigation into his heritage in December.
“We are respectful of the complexity of the discussion surrounding Mr. Boyden,” Winter Cities Shake-Up Chair Susan Holdsworth said.
“After reaching out to many local indigenous community leaders for advice, we heard enough concern that we decided to cancel his speaking engagement and keep the focus of Winter Cities Shake-Up Conference on celebrating successful winter cities.”
APTN reporter Jorge Barrera’s piece, which questioned claims of indigenous ancestry Boyden has made throughout his life, has sparked a firestorm of debate on social media and made international headlines.
Last week, the Canadian novelist released a statement saying his heritage isn’t neatly laid out in official records but instead rooted in stories told by his family.
The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner behind Through Black Spruce described himself as “a white kid from Willowdale with native roots.”
With files from The Canadian Press