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Quesnel city council condemns controversial residential school book distributed by mayor’s wife

March 21, 2024

Lhtako Dene Nation leader calls Grave Error book ‘absolute bigotry and hatred’

Two older people.
Quesnel Mayor Ron Paull (left) says he doesn’t support the actions of his wife, Pat Morton, after the Lhtako Dene Nation and other councilors raised concerns she was distributing a controversial book they say denies the harms of residential schools. (City of Quesnel, Facebook)

CBC Indigenous: The Canadian Press – Quesnel’s city council voted unanimously to denounce a book the Lhtako Dene Nation says downplays the harms of residential schools, after the First Nation and councillors raised concerns the mayor’s wife was distributing it to residents in the city about 630 kilometres north of Vancouver.

Several copies of Grave Error: How the Media Misled Us (and the Truth about Residential Schools) by C.P. Champion and Tom Flanagan have been circulated by Pat Morton, Mayor Ron Paull’s wife, city council members said in a meeting on Tuesday, after receiving a letter of concern about the issue from the First Nation. 

Morton did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CBC News.

The Lhtako Dene Nation said statements in the book like “the truth has been turned into a casualty” deny the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by “implying that cultural genocide did not occur” in the residential school system. 

“It just rips your stomach out,” the First Nation’s administrator Maynard Bara said on Wednesday. “It’s just absolute bigotry and hatred.”

Paull voted with the rest of the council to denounce Grave Error and to accept the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Tuesday night.

Métis councillor says mayor’s wife gave his mother ‘traumatizing’ book downplaying residential-school impact

WATCH | Quesnel councillor says book distribution is disturbing: 

Click on the following link to view the video:

4 days ago, Duration 2:30

Coun. Tony Goulet, whose father survived a residential school, says it was ‘very, very, very traumatizing’ to read a copy of Grave Error given to his mother by Pat Morton, the wife of the mayor of Quesnel, B.C. Council, including Mayor Ron Paull, voted unanimously to denounce the book.

A motion to reaffirm the city’s memorandum of understanding (MOU), which formalizes a collaborative relationship with the Lhtako Dene First Nation, was also approved unanimously. In addition, council accepted an invitation to visit the First Nation’s longhouse to hear from Elders and residential school survivors.

In a social media post Tuesday night, Morton said that as the mayor’s wife, she cares about truth and that there should be room for the “good stories” about residential schools.

Paull said in Tuesday’s council meeting that he had not read the book. When pressed by Coun. Scott Elliott, Paull said he did not support his wife’s actions and that he doesn’t always agree with her.

“You’d love to be a fly on the wall,” he said in a Wednesday interview with CBC. “We get talking about things like First Nations, residential schools, COVID and Donald Trump, but at the end of the day, we’re best friends.”

The book is ‘very hurtful’

The First Nation said many of its members survived residential schools and continue to deal with its traumatic effects.

“The book adds to that hurt,” Bara and other Lhtako Dene leaders wrote in a letter dated March 19 to Paull and the council.

The book also contests findings of evidence of unmarked graves at several residential schools across Canada in recent years.

“The calling into question of what our nation went through is a slap in our people’s collective faces and it is very hurtful to them,” they said in the letter.

Quesnel council votes to denounce book distributed by mayor’s wife

WATCH | The full council discussion surrounding Grave Error book: 

4 days ago, Duration 22:41

A book that questions and minimizes the harms of residential schools has been distributed by the wife of the mayor of Quesnel, B.C. After receiving a letter of concern from the Lhtako Dene Nation, the entire council, including the mayor, voted to denounce the publication.

Click on the following link to view the video:

Coun. Tony Goulet, who is Métis and whose father is a residential school survivor, said Morton gave a copy of the book to his mother.

“It’s very, very, very traumatizing, it’s very, very, very disrespectful to an Indigenous community and especially [an individual] to receive this book,” Goulet said in an emotional statement to city council. 

“And especially with my dad going through residential school … [Morton] brought up a lot of stuff.”

The book was also mailed to the Quesnel Board of Education, which denounced it in a Thursday news release.

A picture of the First Nation’s letter posted on social media by Elliott Tuesday evening has drawn more than 200 comments from community members, the vast majority of whom disagreed with Morton’s actions.

Tuesday’s motion is the second time city council has had to restate its commitment to the MOU due to Morton’s actions, Coun. Laury-Anne Roodenburg said during the meeting.

Social media comments by Morton about the “good sides” of residential schools prompted the Lhtako Dene to write to Paull and city council on Nov. 1, 2022 shortly after he was elected, Roodenburg told CBC on Wednesday.

Quesnel City hall sign outside a snowy building.
Quesnel City Council voted unanimously to denounce the Grave Error book on Tuesday. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Denialism is “the last step in genocide,” according to Canada’s independent special interlocutor for missing children and unmarked graves associated with residential schools.

“Denialism is violence. Denialism is calculated. Denialism is harmful. Denialism is hate,” Kimberly Murray said last June.

On Wednesday, an interim report from an international group hired to provide advice on identifying and locating the unmarked graves of children who attended residential schools said Canada should continue funding searches beyond 2025.

The report from the International Commission on Missing Persons, based in The Hague, also recommended Ottawa ratify the United Nations International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools across Canada.

A national movement to find and commemorate unmarked graves began after ground-penetrating radar detected possible remains at the former Kamloops Residential School in 2021.

With files from Betsy Trumpener, Daybreak North and The Canadian Press.