The Alberta NDP called on Premier Jason Kenney to apologize Thursday and to fire his speechwriter over a 2013 essay critical of how Indigenous issues are framed in Canada, and which argues the narrative around residential schools amounts to a “bogus genocide story.”
Paul Bunner’s essay, title “The ‘Genocide’ That Failed,” was published in a right-wing online publication called the C2C Journal. The essay argues that a number of First Nations leaders have worked to suppress “media attempts to add some balance to the history of residential schools” and argues Phil Fontaine, a former grand chief of the Assembly of First Nations, “leveraged the 1996 findings and recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples into a political and financial gold mine.”
Bunner noted that some Indigenous people have spoken positively about residential schools and wrote that Stephen Harper, whom Bunner worked for as a speechwriter when he was prime minister, publicly apologized for Canada’s residential school in a misguided attempt to “kill the story and move on to a better relationship between Natives and non-Natives.”
Bunner wrote he fears more and more Canadians will become “suckers” who are preyed upon by Fontaine and others like him to feed “their never-ending demands for more tax dollars and greater political autonomy.” He argued that politicians, academics and the media need to challenge the current narrative around residential schools and rejected the theory that abuse in residential schools had ripple effects on future generations of Indigenous people, arguing the descendants of Jews who survived the Holocaust have fared well since that genocide.
“It is painful to read something as profoundly racist as the words Mr. Bunner wrote and published,” NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley said in a news release. “I am deeply troubled that Jason Kenney selected someone who holds these views to be one of his closest collaborators in the premier’s office.
“It is disturbing to think of how many of the premier’s public statements over the past year have been composed by someone who harbors such hatred towards Indigenous people.”
At a news conference on Thursday, Kenney was asked about Bunner’s essay and if he would fire his speechwriter. The premier said that while he had seen excerpts of it, he had not read the full essay and did not say whether he would fire Bunner.
“I fundamentally disagree with those statements,” Kenney said of the excerpts he has read.
The premier pointed out that in a legislature debate last week, he recognized the “devastation of our Indigenous communities through the regime of Indian residential schools and where children were torn away from their parents, where families were destroyed by the abuse of power of the state in an effort to completely deracinate Indigenous children from their families, their languages and their cultures.”
Kenney noted that in the debate, he stressed the importance of acknowledging that the “system was fundamentally racist” and flawed.
Kenney said over the course of a decades-long career in media, Bunner may have written things that he disagrees with.
Marlene Poitras, the Assembly of First Nations’ regional chief for Alberta, told Global News in an email that she was “utterly appalled” when she read Bunner’s essay on Thursday morning.
“It severely undermines the horrific experience of too many First Nations children and families during the residential school era,” she said. “It also undermines the work Mr. Kenney did under the Harper government with the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Mr. Bunner also claims that learning about Aboriginal history, injustices and trauma would incite Aboriginal violence, creating Aboriginal terrorism. That is pure and utter hate and fear-mongering, and I strongly condemn the racist undertones of the article.”
Poitras said she not only wants Kenney to ask his speechwriter to resign, but also wants Bunner to issue a retraction and apology.
She also said she believes the premier’s officer must have seen the article when Bunner was vetted before being hired and noted that the C2C Journal, which Bunner was once an editor of, “has also made calls for the rejection of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and any climate change action, which they purport are both damaging to the economy.”
“Mr. Bunner’s article calls on media, academia and politicians to create a counter-narrative to Indigenous historical trauma and long-standing impacts,” Poitras said. “That is concerning, considering his access.
“He may only be a speechwriter but he has a personal agenda and my concern is those views reflect on the current government.
“I think it would be wise for the premier to contact Indigenous leaders and reassure them that the views contained in this article do not reflect the views or intentions of his party or government. That said, actions speak louder than words.
“It would go a long way to regain Indigenous people’s trust in the government if they knew someone who had so much hate towards them was no longer working for Mr. Kenney.”
In addition to speechwriting for Kenney and Harper, Bunner has also written speeches for former federal cabinet minister Rona Ambrose and former Alberta Opposition leader Danielle Smith.
Global News has reached out to the premier’s office in an attempt to get comment from Bunner himself.
Watch below: Some Global News videos about residential schools.