‘Deep ignorance’: Calls for Manitoba trustee to resign sparked after comments about Indigenous people and reconciliation

A rural Manitoba school trustee is facing calls to resign over comments he made about Indigenous people and residential schools earlier this week.

The remarks came on Monday during a Mountain View School Division school board meeting in Dauphin, Man., during Trustee Paul Coffey’s presentation called “Racism/Anti Racism – Nice Until It Isn’t.”

During the presentation, Coffey said he would use the term “Indian” instead of other words like First Nations or Indigenous.

“Name changing is a form of erasure,” said Coffey. “It’s an obliteration brought on by colonization.”

He also brought up residential schools during the presentation, stating, “They were good.”

“They were essential for reading, writing and arithmetic,” he said, adding he believes everyone knew the schools were good and needed, including people living on reserves.

“It started out as a good thing and now it turned out not very good.”

Coffey claims to have Indigenous ancestry, and said he and family members went to day schools, but don’t consider themselves survivors.

“To be a survivor, that means you’re a victim. They are more resilient and powerful and able to overcome adversity and hardship.”

He went on to say Indigenous land acknowledgments were performative and tokenistic.

“This activity exacerbates feelings of resentment and division within communities and leads to a sense of stagnation and hopelessness,” he said in the presentation, adding he believes the term “white privilege” is racist against white people.

The day after the meeting, the board of trustees released a statement saying Coffey’s comments did not represent the thoughts and beliefs of the rest of the board.

“Mountain View School Division stands by our continued work with Indigenous partners and our tireless work around reconciliation with our Umbay Nagamon project. Mountain View School Division stands against any type of racism while we work to fulfill the outcomes of our Indigenous Education Framework.”

AMC Grand Chief calls for Coffey to be removed

On Wednesday, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) Grand Chief Cathy Merrick called for the “prompt removal” of Coffey from the board of trustees.

“Paul Coffey’s remarks demonstrate a deep ignorance that is counterproductive to the goals of reconciliation,” she said in a news release.

“Continuing to provide a platform for someone with such profoundly racist beliefs is as irresponsible as it is violent, and this rhetoric has no place in any public education system.”

She said trustees play an important role in the direction and policies school divisions adopt and their words and beliefs can “deeply impact students and staff.”

“Those in positions of authority within the education system must be committed to fostering an environment of respect, understanding, and inclusivity.”

The AMC said the organization also expects Coffey to make a public apology.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) said it was dismayed by Coffey’s comments in the meeting.

“It is with a combination of sadness and disgust that I listened to this trustee’s ignorant and dangerous rhetoric,” SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels said in a release.

“Along with absolutely denouncing and rejecting his comments, SCO is also calling for Mr. Coffey’s resignation as trustee for the (Mountain View School Division). Alternatively, SCO is calling to have him removed for spewing racism and hate.

“The words of this person set us back when it comes to creating meaningful reconciliation within the school system.”

Frances Chartrand, the vice president of the Manitoba Metis Federation, said Coffey’s comments, “are a direct assault on the tremendous work and efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

“As we continue to work together to implement the recommendations of the TRC and move toward true reconciliation, we will maintain our resolve to ensure that naysayers do not derail the positive outcomes we have accomplished to this point,” Chartrand said in a statement.

David Bosiak, the mayor of Dauphin, said in a statement he was “deeply concerned” by the comments.

“These comments are contrary to our ongoing efforts to foster an environment where, regardless of background, ethnicity, or orientation, feels valued and respected,” he said.

CTV News Winnipeg has reached out to Coffey for comment.

If you are a former residential school survivor in distress, or have been affected by the residential school system and need help, you can contact the 24-hour Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419.

Additional supports can be found here.

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