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Quesnel looking to address harm caused by Mayor's wife denying Residential School history

The City of Quesnel is seeking to set up a meeting with the Lhtako Dene Nation, following the discovery that the Mayor's wife, Pat Morton, had been distributing copies of a book which severely downplays the history and harms of residential schools in Canada.
The City of Quesnel.

The City of Quesnel is seeking to set up a meeting with the Lhtako Dene Nation, following the discovery that the Mayor's wife, Pat Morton, had been distributing copies of Grave Error - How The Media Misled Us (And The Truth About Residential Schools), a book which severely downplays the history and harms of residential schools in Canada. 

The issue was addressed during council's March 19 meeting, following a letter from the Lhtako Dene Nation, expressing outrage over having to defend the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the T'Kemlups te Secwepem'c First Nation, the Williams Lake First Nation, and others. 

"The calling into question of what our Nation went through is a slap in our people's collective faces and is very hurtful to them. The Nation has a significant number of members who suffered through attendance at a Residential School and today suffer through the long-term trauma of what they went through. The book adds to that hurt," they explained. 

The letter asks council to reaffirm the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the Nation. 

"We would also appreciate the opportunity to have some of our Elders, who experienced Residential School attendance, meet with the Mayor and Council to provide first-hand knowledge of the treatment they were subjected to and survived," adds the letter. 

The letter did not name the person distributing copies of the book, but noted they were related to a member of council. Mayor Ron Paull confirmed during the meeting that it was his wife who distributed the book, and told council he hasn't read it himself. 

“To be honest, I haven’t even opened it, I've looked at the cover but I've got no interest in looking at it," said Paull. 

The mayor went on to make a statement on past accomplishments he was involved in as part of council, in regards to First Nations, including the renaming of Ceal Tingley Memorial Park to Lhtako Dene Park, and appointing their first Indigenous Relations Liaison. 

“Some will look upon this situation as a threat to our reconciliation efforts. I look upon it as a welcome opportunity for all of us, together, to understand and respect one another’s views and aspirations even more deeply," stated Paull. "As is being asked by the council of the Lhtako Dene Nation I will be the first as leader of our council and our city and our greater community to positively and meaningfully reaffirm our Memorandum of Understanding that is so proudly displayed over there on that wall in these chambers." 

Paull also attempted to co-appoint himself to the council's indigenous liaison portfolio. Fellow councillors did not move or second his proposed motion, silence falling on the room. 

A copy of the book was given to the parents of Coun. Tony Goulet, whose father was a survivor of residential school, and Goulet said he was appalled by the book's contents and circulation in the community, but managed to read it, cover to cover. Goulet agreed the MOU should be reaffirmed. 

"It was very disturbing, like I said, I was just like appalled that this would be circulating within the community," said Goulet. "You know, residential school, people have their opinions, everyone's allowed to have their opinion and I’m not against people having their opinion, but we shouldn’t be, you know, here's something that is detesting things that have been taking place for years with reconciliation and what we’re trying to do with Indigenous elders and Indigenous people."

"We’re doing an actual injustice by saying here is a book, here is something you should read and look at and form your own opinion. It just came to me as a shock," said Goulet, noting a copy of the book was sent to the local school district. 

"It was contesting that they didn't exist, they weren't there - those things are real, they are actually real and they did happen to Indigenous who went through the school, right," he added, emotion in his voice. "Especially when you were just picked up, taken to the school, and you know, everything was taken away from you."

Coun. Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, council’s Indigenous Relations Liaison, said she Morton's undermines Paull's role as mayor, and reflects poorly on council and the community, expressing she feels there's no excuse for the behaviour, no matter what opinions they might hold. 

“I respect the fact that people have the right to their own opinions, but what I don't see here is the respect that your wife has shown you in your role as mayor of this community," said Roodenburg. "We know that what has happened reflects not only on you, but on council and on our community as a whole." 

"The anger and reopening of old memories is doing serious harm to our First Nations communities, not just Lhtako, but the other surrounding communities that we are trying to work with. This is the second time in two years that council has had to reaffirm our commitment to our MOU with Lhtako because of comments or actions that have been taken by the Mayor's wife, Pat Morton, in regards to First Nations and residential schools," she added. 

"To distribute a book that claims cultural genocide did not occur, is morally reprehensible and clearly comes from a place that is meant to do harm to members of our First Nations communities," Roodenburg noted.

Coun. Scott Elliot said it's disturbing that the incident happened in their community, and feels some members of the community are trying to push them backwards over work that's been done to improve Indigenous relations, offering an apology to Goulet's family. He also asked that Morton's name be given, before Paull's statement was made, and recommended they take another look at their MOU. 

"I think it's just absolutely unacceptable. The only time that I've really gotten, that I can recall, emotional in these chambers is when we had an Elder come in here and explain what had happened to her and to her family, and it was completely devastating, and I cannot imagine someone coming into my home and taking my children," said Elliott.  

“I need to know and the community I feel needs to know, and have been asking me - do you agree with what your wife has been doing in the community?" questioned Elliott.

“No,” replied Paull.

A motion was unanimously passed by council to reaffirm the terms of the MOU, in addition to three other resolutions, setting up a meeting with Lhtako First Nation to learn more about the impacts of residential schools from Elders, another to denounce the book alongside their First Nations neighbours, and one for the city to officially state formal acceptance of the findings of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission. 

You can read the Nation's letter in full below: 

Lhtako Dene Nation Letter March 19 2024 0001 by Tom Summer on Scribd