Author Joseph Boyden ended his silence Wednesday, giving interviews on his claims of Native heritage to Globe and Mail and CBC Radio.
In both interviews, Boyden chose his interviewer. For the Globe it was Books editor Mark Medley. You can read the Globe interview here. For CBC’s q, Boyden’s interviewer was his “friend” Candy Palmater. You can listen to the full q interview here.
Boyden defended his claims to Indigenous ancestry in both interviews in a the same way: “A small part of me is Indigenous, but it’s a big part of who I am.”
Here’s some reaction to the two interviews:
APTN tweeted Wednesday it has asked Boyden on multiple occasions for an interview. Boyden has yet to take the outlet up on its requests.
Author @josephboyden is in the media responding to this story by @JorgeBarrera https://t.co/wyQ5ojPQh4@APTNNews has requested a # of invus pic.twitter.com/NXByRJTJ52
— APTN National News (@APTNNews) January 11, 2017
Robert Jago is a researcher who was one of the first to raise question about Boyden’s claims. He’s written for CANADALAND why he did. Jago tweeted as he listened to the interview starting here. His concluding thought:
@rjjago I hope this is him saying that he's not qualified to speak on native politics ever again in the future. 74
— Robert Jago (@rjjago) January 12, 2017
Adam Gaudry, on the faculty of University of Alberta’s Native Studies department, had a detailed breakdown of the CBC interview, starting here:
Sitting down to listen, now. I've researched settler Indigenization for the past few years, seems applicable here:https://t.co/gQMbh6WcNq
— Adam Gaudry (@adamgaudry) January 12, 2017
Author Aaron Paquette was not impressed:
Inconsistent, contradictory, and entitled.
In essence: I can't prove anything but I FEEL it so just trust me. No, it's not in any records
— Aaron Paquette (@aaronpaquette) January 12, 2017
CANADALAND publisher Jesse Brown wonders why CBC let Boyden use them to further his PR push:
1. So it's quite clear that CBC played ball with @josephboyden in an exchange of "exclusive" access for friendly coverage on his terms.
— Jesse Brown (@JesseBrown) January 12, 2017
5.Of course the opposite is true. An accountability intvw comparing what has been represented to what is factual would be far more "real"
— Jesse Brown (@JesseBrown) January 12, 2017
Author and educator Debbie Reese added some context to Boyden’s claims of community adoption:
In his interview, Boyden referenced Native families that adopted him. That's complicated/complex topic that gets used in not-good ways.
— Debbie Reese (@debreese) January 12, 2017
Comedian Ryan McMahon—who recently guested on Short Cuts—said:
Listening to this interview, he not only doesn't get it, he's an asshole too. Holy shit.
— Ryan McMahon (@RMComedy) January 12, 2017
Joseph boyden said he was from specific nations and communities that he knew he wasn't from. This isn't some vague BQ/identity thing
— Fancy Bebamikawe (@FancyBebamikawe) January 12, 2017
Those Boyden interviews are painful. Why would CBC & Globe pander to that? Dude, buck up & sit down with APTN. Your life & career will go on
— sarahpvictoria (@sarahpvictoria) January 12, 2017
The recent Boyden interviews by the CBC & Globe both entail some rather sizable lapses in journalistic standards. Hugely problematic. https://t.co/UukMG8GQ6S
— Ian Mosbγ (@Ian_Mosby) January 12, 2017
Christie Blatchford wrote a column, published Friday in the National Post, excoriating UBC for cancelling an appearance by John Furlong at a fundraising event.
The university had received a complaint asserting that Furlong shouldn’t be given a platform to speak at UBC, because he’s been accused of abusing Aboriginal children when he was a teacher at Immaculata Elementary School in Burns Lake, B.C. You can read about those allegations in an article by freelance journalist Laura Robinson in the Georgia Straight. You can read more in CANADALAND’s coverage, too.
As we’ve written previously, none of the allegations in Robinson’s article have been tested in court. There were two independent civil claims against Furlong that were eventually dismissed. Those suits were brought by individuals who were not written about in Robinson’s story.
Robinson sued Furlong for defamation after he said she had a personal vendetta against him. Robinson lost that suit last year.
Furlong’s lawyer, former lawyer, and speaking agent have all made the case that Furlong has been treated unfairly by UBC in the pages of the Post and the Vancouver Sun. In her column, Blatchford takes up their cause, writing UBC should never have caved to any public complaints, as Furlong had been “vindicated” following Robinson’s defamation lawsuit. You can read Blatchford’s whole column here.
What follows is Robinson’s response, which she sent directly to Blatchford. Robinson also provided a copy to CANADALAND. We’ve lightly edited it to put some of the links directly in the text, correct a typo, and add a photo to provide context. Excerpts from Blatchford’s column have also been bolded to better differentiate them from the text of the letter.
Dear Ms. Blatchford:
Please find below corrections re: your December 30, 2016 column.
“The judge said, of the purported multiple declarations from alleged indigenous victims of Furlong’s alleged abusive conduct, only three had ever been ‘even minimally tested in a way that we, as a society, believe our system of justice requires when a citizen faces such serious and devastating allegations.’” Unfortunately, Justice Wedge made dozens of errors in fact. She incorrectly connected allegations of sexual abuse by Mr. Furlong, to my Georgia Straight article, which contained no allegations of sexual abuse. Two months after my story came out Grace Jessie West spoke to me for the first time and at no time did she allege sexual abuse to me. My reference to her was in my Jan. 2013 Response to Mr. Furlong’s Notice of Civil Claim that alleges she was afraid of him when he yelled “Don’t talk Indian” and that he “kicked her bottom.” While class lists do not show Ms. West at Immaculata School, Mr. Furlong has stated he traveled Hwy 16 in that time period as the diocese sent him to a number of schools “along the corridor.” Ms. West attended St. Joseph’s, in Smithers, just off Hwy 16.
Immaculata class list, highlighting West’s name, entered as evidence in the Furlong trial. Handout/National Observer
Daniel Morice contacted me for the first time ten months after the Georgia Straight article appeared. In September, 2013, a year after my article appeared, he gave me a signed on-the-record statement alleging, amongst other abuses, sexual abuse. Not surprisingly, he is not listed in the Georgia Straight story or my Response. Unfortunately, Justice Wedge wrote that he did not attend Immaculata when Mr. Furlong was there when in fact, the school’s class list, which Father Gregoire Beaudette swore in an affidavit was accurate, shows him in gr. 2 in 1969 and gr. 3 in ’69-70. This exhibit was before Justice Wedge. I testified that in his affidavit, Ronnie West swore he witnessed Mr. Furlong abusing “Dan Morris”. The class list shows Mr. West was in Dan Morice’s class. Justice Wedge disallowed all statements/affidavits made by First Nations people as hearsay; she would not let me speak to the details of my research such as how many people gave me affidavits/statements or what they said and when they said it. In dozens of instances she made incorrect statements about First Nations people: what they said, why they said it and when they said it. I reported Justice Wedge to the Canadian Judicial Council. Unlike affidavits from First Nations people, Father Beaudette’s affidavit was accepted by Justice Wedge and she still erred in the reading of the class-list. It was common practice to shuttle First Nations children from school to school. Mr. Morice could have easily been at Lejac Residential School, which was at Fraser Lake, three lakes east of Burns Lake, in the same years he attended Immaculata. One tragedy of this story is that, despite all his years in diocese schools, Mr. Morice is illiterate. He could not read the lengthy legal documents that stated when he attended Lejac.
Beverly Abraham was the third person to sue Mr. Furlong for sexual abuse. She dropped her claim, citing family stress as a number of people had recently died and her mother’s leg also had to be amputated. Mr. Furlong discontinued his suit against me, citing family stress.
The RCMP are presently conducting an investigation into Cpl. Mackie, who was responsible for the investigation of allegations made by Ms. Abraham. In July 2013, the RCMP’s Serious Crime Unit of Division K of Edmonton made 28 recommendations about Cpl. Mackie’s investigation: 22 of them were to open new investigations concerning allegations of abuse by Mr. Furlong made by other First Nations people. The 28th recommended a polygraph for Mr. Furlong: here and here. At trial Cpl. Mackie characterized these as “…general abuse or general hardship at Immaculata School” and “…just general practices and abuse at Immaculata School, if there was any.”
“There, attached to Kirchmeier’s three-page letter, among 50-odd pages, are some of the discredited sworn declarations, including the one from the woman whose criminal case was dismissed and who consented to her civil case also being dropped. The letter itself includes an excerpt from that declaration, and Kirchmeier wrote, ‘There has never been a forum in which the allegations were tested.’ The woman’s complaint was investigated and police couldn’t substantiate it, in large part because her story shifted so often. That decision was reviewed by the Alberta RCMP, lest the B.C. Mounties had goofed.” There are no discredited excerpts in Ms. Kirchmeirer’s letter to Dr. Ono. As stated above, Ms. Abraham dropped her case for reasons similar to Mr. Furlong. The RCMP’s investigation will, in part, determine whether or not Cpl. Mackie actually followed up on the 28 recommendations made by the Alberta RCMP concerning the investigation of Ms. Abraham’s allegation. The other seven affidavits cited in Ms. Kirchmeirer’s letter were not investigated or tested in court: they were disallowed by Justice Wedge.
“The male complainant, attempting to be paid twice, was clearly riding the residential school train.” As stated above, Mr. Morice is on the class lists of Immaculata School during the time period Mr. Furlong taught there: this fact is sworn to by Father Gregoire Beaudette, in an affidavit supplied by Mr. Furlong. Records in University of Manitoba’s National Centre for Truth & Reconciliation show a significant decrease in students attending Lejac during that same time period.
“Yet there was Kirchmeier, coolly asserting that this wasn’t so, and asking, ‘Why does UBC want to associate with a man whom at least 45 people say abused children,’ and worse, far worse, there was UBC cravenly caving to her demands within days.” Many more people contacted myself or the Georgia Straight after my story ran. Some of those statements, but by no means all, were excerpted in my January 2013 Response. Forty-five is a significant underrepresentation of the real number. They have not been investigated. The Assembly of First Nations passed Resolution #34 in July . It stated in part,
1. Direct the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to urge the federal government and the RCMP to conduct, as expeditiously as possible, a thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of abuse brought by Mr. Furlong’s former students.
2. Direct the AFN to urge the federal government to meet, as expeditiously as possible, with the affected members of Lake Babine Band Council, Burns Lake Band Council, and any other affected former students to hear their concerns about the conduct of investigations and to discuss with them acceptable remedies.
Perhaps UBC should use the funds that were to go to Mr. Furlong towards an invitation so the First Nations people who allege Mr. Furlong abused them at Immaculata or Prince George College can speak. Their voices may help dispel the endless speculation by those who have never interviewed or listened to them.
To a growing number of newspaper and magazine pundits, the Joseph Boyden controversy is about political correctness run amok, a public “lynching,” outrage culture, a racial witch-hunt and petty literary jealousy from bitter Indigenous writers.
The rhetoric and name-calling seems to have obscured the question that must surely lie at the core of the matter: has Joseph Boyden misrepresented himself, or hasn’t he?
To answer that, let’s look at the various affiliations he has reportedly claimed over the years:
“To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never referred to myself as Mi’kmaq but in some interviews in the past I assume my Nipmuc heritage was misheard as Mi’kmaq.”
On its face this seems believable. Mi’kmaq is arguably a better known Nation than Nipmuc, so perhaps Boyden was simply misquoted, an honest mistake made not by him but by uninformed journalists.
Meanwhile, according to APTN investigative journalist Jorge Barrera, there is no record of Boyden calling himself “Nipmuc” until 2014.
What this means is that in order to believe Boyden, you must believe that until 2014, every journalist who called him Mi’kmaq was either mishearing him in the exact same way or copying and pasting from someone else who did. It also means that Boyden never took the time to correct any of these misquotes, which put false words in his own mouth about his own heritage.
This seems very unlikely — but perhaps not impossible. Then Peggy Blair dug up this Boyden quote, from a 2005 interview with New Orleans newspaper The Times-Picayune:
“[I’m] Mi’kmaq on my father’s side. They’re an east coast tribe in Canada,”
This is where Boyden’s explanation falls apart. The Nipmuc Nation is not Canadian, they are from parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The Mi’kmaq are an east coast tribe from Canada, just as Boyden said.
This seems to prove that despite what Boyden recalls “to the best of [his] knowledge,” he did publicly claim he has Mi’kmaq ancestry, which (as he now concedes) he does not.
Here’s how Boyden explains why he has repeatedly called himself “Métis”:
“I’ve used the term Métis in the past when referring to myself as a mixed blood person. I do not trace my roots to Red River, and I apologize to any Red River Métis I’ve upset.”
This too seems credible at first glance. “Métis” is often used to describe anyone of mixed Indigenous and European heritage. But that catch-all use of the term tends to piss off members of the Métis Nation, one of the three recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
By apologizing to the Métis Nation, Boyden is pleading guilty to a misdemeanour. Many people don’t know that “Métis” is such a specific and contentious term. But Boyden is not one of those people.
In fact, he’s literally an expert on Métis history. He wrote a book about it.
So it’s simply not credible that Boyden called himself “Métis” without knowing that he was claiming a connection to a Nation he has no link to.
“Wasauksing First Nation”
After APTN’s exposé, another claim made by Boyden surfaced. Muskrat Magazine editor Rebeka Tabobondung wrote about meeting Boyden at a writers’ conference and asking him what his home nation was.
“Wasauksing First Nation,” he replied.
But Tabobondung is from Wasauksing First Nation, and was in a position to easily check this claim.
“I later asked a respected community geneologist what his connection was,” Tabobondung wrote, “and she said she didn’t know.”
Boyden has yet to clarify whether he in fact claimed to be of Wasausking First Nation, and if so what he bases that claim on.
Boyden has called himself “a bit of a two-spirit person.” In an interview with Nuvo magazine, he explained the term:
“I think I’m a bit of a two-spirit person. Home for me has to be both places—it has to be New Orleans, it [also] has to be Ontario. I would be very incomplete without either of those. It might be a little schizophrenic, but it works for me.”
But this is not what “two-spirit” means, as Boyden surely knows. The term applies to gender identity — people who are neither strictly male or female.
Calling himself “two-spirit” seems to be not so much a case of Boyden misrepresenting himself as much as it is a case of him casually appropriating an Indigenous term and bending it to his own purposes and brand.
A group of high-ranking former producers and executives at CBC, calling themselves Public Broadcasting in Canada for the 21st Century, have submitted a proposal to the Heritage Ministry, calling for an ad-free CBC.
The signees include Bernie Lucht, the former Executive Producer of the CBC Radio show Ideas, and Jeffrey Dvorkin, former Managing Editor and Chief Journalist for CBC Radio, and former ombudsman of NPR Radio. Dvorkin currently runs the University of Toronto’s Journalism department. They write:
It has become obvious to many that requiring our public broadcaster to apply the practices of the private sector to its civic and cultural mission has not resulted in the creation of a large body of distinctive, informative and inspiring social and cultural capital for Canadians. While French services and English Radio have fared better, it has turned CBC English television into what its own executives have described as a “publicly subsidized commercial network.”
…we recommend that all the services provided by the CBC/Radio-Canada must be non-commercial, including its online operations.
Green Party leader Elizabeth May retweeted (but did not endorse) CANADALAND publisher Jesse Brown’s message in support of an #AdFreeCBC.
And Conservative Party leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier laid out his vision for the CBC on Wednesday. Bernier wants to severely limit the CBC’s mandate, but also want the broadcaster to replace its revenue from ads through donations from the public, in a way similar to PBS and NPR in the U.S.:
All private media outlets have had to make deep cuts and to lay off journalists by the hundreds in the past few years. Yet, after getting a head start with more than a billion dollars in taxpayers’ money, CBC/Radio-Canada unfairly competes with struggling private media in a shrinking advertisement market.
To replace its revenues from advertisement, which amounted to about $250 million last year, the CBC/Radio-Canada will have to switch to the PBS/NPR model in the US and rely on sponsorships from corporations and foundations, as well as voluntary donations from its viewers and listeners. Of course, changes to the structure of CBC/Radio-Canada will also require changes to the Broadcasting Act.
Michael Geist is a University of Ottawa law professor with an expertise in the digital space. His argument for an ad-free CBC is based on the idea a publicly funded news outlet should be competing for ad dollars on top of eyeballs.
While the CBC should be responding to its audience with a strong digital news service, it does not follow that it should also compete for digital advertising dollars. As noted in the CBC letter, its total digital advertising revenues are relatively small (and they are even smaller — roughly $6 million — for the online news service) so the foregone earnings will not have a material impact on the CBC. However, there is a market effect of having the CBC compete for ad dollars that affects news organizations of all sizes. This includes large players like the Globe as well as smaller, independent media for whom a loss of thousands in advertising can be significant. An ad-free online service would better justify the public investment in the public broadcaster, make for an enhanced user experience, and remove the concern that the CBC is harming private sector alternatives by competing for advertising dollars.
The full text of the Public Broadcasting in Canada for the 21st Century submission can be found here:
PBC21 Submission PDF