First Peoples Studies students shocked by lecturer’s comments

Many students in a First Peoples Studies class walked out due to a speaker’s claims on residential schools.

Multiple Concordia students walked out of a class on Algonquian Peoples on Oct. 28 due to the comments of a guest lecturer, Toby Morantz, a retired McGill professor. Morantz told the class that the James Bay Cree suffered less in residential schools than other Indigenous people.

Morantz was invited to speak in class by the professor, Emanuel Lowi, on her book The White Man’s Gonna Getcha: The Colonial Challenge to the Crees in Quebec, which was assigned reading for the course.

“She basically tried to argue that the James Bay Cree suffered significantly less than other [Indigenous] nations,” said Mavis Poucachiche, who is from the Waswanipi community that is part of the James Bay Cree Nation. Poucachiche explained that Morantz was specifically talking about residential schools in Fort George, and how the children did not have to travel far from their homes to attend. It was common practice for Indigenous children to be sent to residential schools far from their community, and not allowed to return home for the summer or holidays.

Poucachiche said that another student in the class, who is also James Bay Cree, told Morantz that their grandparents, who were from Fort George, were forcibly taken away to a residential school. Morantz then apparently wagged her finger at this student, saying “No, no no, no.”

“A few students felt uncomfortable with what I had said and walked out of the classroom. That is their prerogative,” said Morantz, who explained that she miscommunicated the differences in the policies enacted in James Bay and elsewhere after WWII, and tried to correct what she said once she saw the students misunderstood her.

She also stated that she is upset by how people and the media have labeled her as racist, and that she has received many emails in support, saying that she is being misrepresented in the media.

Morantz is credited along with other historians in an open letter from August by the Dorchester Review, which disagrees with the Canadian Historical Association’s statement that the Canadian government’s treatment of Indigenous people was an act of genocide.

Shortly after Morantz wagged her finger at the student, multiple people, including Poucachiche, walked out of class.

“It was just so disrespectful,” said Poucachiche, who said that Morantz’s studies were from a colonial perspective; that in her book she only references the Hudson’s Bay Company and other non-Indigenous sources. “She just kept telling that we were wrong, like us Cree people were wrong.”

“It made us really uncomfortable and it was traumatizing for us to have to hear this,” said Catherine*, who is white-mixed and Mi’kmaq.

Catherine explained that Professor Lowi did nothing to stop Morantz for the entire class, besides stating during the class that some of Morantz’s comments were inappropriate.

Even as students walked out after Morantz said the children at the Fort George residential schools suffered less physical and sexual abuse compared to other schools, or when Morantz called Indigenous people Indians and referred to them as homeless and drunks, Lowi did nothing to intervene and stop the presentation.

“[Morantz] said that if you are a lawyer or a teacher, bush life doesn’t impact your everyday life,” said Catherine. Bush life refers to the social, cultural, and physical skills that Indigenous people practice in nature. “This was incredibly insulting, traditional life literally shapes our entire being, it’s not some distant thing.”

The class now has a new syllabus and is being taught by Manon Tremblay, the senior director of indigenous directions, and who is a nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Plains Cree) from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. On Nov. 4, Tremblay, alongside Dr. Catherine Kinewesquao Richardson, the director of First Peoples Studies at Concordia, and who is Métis with Cree, Dene, and Gwich’in ancestry, held a space for students to share their experiences and thoughts on the issue.

“It really reminded me of being back home with my family and where we would sit around the table and just laugh,” said Poucachiche, describing what having Tremblay as the new professor is like. “It was a heartwarming experience and I’m really grateful that Catherine [Richardson] and Manon are listening to us and taking this seriously.”

“I think her [Morantz] conduct in class is terrible and really disheartening,” said Richardson, who explained that she and her colleagues always work hard to implement cultural safety, and uplift Indigenous students who have already faced many obstacles to be in the classroom.

Richardson stated that for legal reasons she cannot say if there have been repercussions for Lowi, but he is currently not teaching any classes at the moment. She also explained that he was remorseful about what occurred, and there have been letters sent supporting Lowi, but it is also clear that inviting Morantz was a mistake and her lecture caused harm.

On Oct. 29, Lowi sent a Moodle message to the class, stating that Morantz’s remarks were outrageous, and that he had never met her before that class.

“Those students who walked out were totally right to do that. If I had been a student in the classroom, I would have walked out too,” said Lowi in the message.

Lowi has not responded to any requests for an interview.

*Catherine requested anonymity of her last name.


Graphic by James Fay


“No pride in genocide” — Indigenous leaders lead thousands who marched to honour the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Among other communities across Canada, Montreal gathers to mourn and recognize the history of Canada’s residential school system.

On Sept. 30, Indigenous leaders and supporters took it to the streets to mourn the lives of the individuals who died while attending residential schools and those whose bodies may never be found. At the start of the event, ae crowd of hundreds came together at 1 p.m. at Place du Canada near Peel Ave. and René Lévesque Blvd. in front of the former site of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue, to symbolize the genocide orchestrated by the first prime minister, who introduced the residential school system to Canada. Macdonald had a significant role in the creation of the residential school system, and after his statue was torn down by an anonymous group of activists and protestors on Aug. 29, its former site remained a powerful reminder for attendees.

Organized by the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal (NWSM) and the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, the event began with youth from different Quebec and Labrador communities chanting Indigenous traditional music.

To kick off the march, the group witnessed several Indigenous speakers share their stories. As they proceeded to march, the crowd grew to include thousands of people.

Marchers were encouraged to wear orange shirts to stand in solidarity.  Orange Shirt Day was started by Phyllis Webstad, a residential school survivor whose orange shirt was taken away from her at the St. Joseph’s Mission residential school in British Columbia. The orange shirt symbolizes how the residential school system took away the identities of Indigenous students, and seeks to honour and remember the experiences and losses of every Indigenous community. 

With the recent announcement by Premier François Legault refusing to pass the legislation marking Sept. 30 as a statutory holiday, many voiced their anger. Among the many is Nakuset, executive director of the NWSM.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think that if you’re going to deny this as a statutory holiday, you’re going to deny us, you’re also denying our existence, you’re denying systemic racism,” said Nakuset.

“Hopefully, when a lot of people show up, we are no longer in denial. This is the day that people have chosen to leave work, to leave school and come be with us, and maybe next year, we’ll change his mind,” she added.

Nakuset emphasized the importance of active reflection.

“The reason why I put this together is because I want this day to be a day of action. I do not want people hanging at home or at work reflecting on this particular day,” she explained. “I think when you come here and listen to speakers, then you actually learn about residential schools,” she continued.

When asked about her hopes and expectations for this march, she insisted on accountability with subpoenas.

“What I [would] like is for people that know about the law to actually start handing out subpoenas for all those residential schools. […] Come to court, share what happened and change the history books, because we need justice,” Nakuset urged.

Though Nakuset sees this holiday as gruesome, she says it is important to remember Sept. 30 as a day of action, a day to learn and a day to do something productive for the future. 

Chief Ross Montour of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke opened his speech by also acknowledging the day as historic.

“We are here to walk today to gather and to remember every life on this day who suffered through the colonization of this country… Those who never came home.”

Montour ended his speech by saying, “I’m happy to be here, but I had to be here.”

Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel, a Mohawk activist and spokesperson from the Kanehsatà:ke Nation’s Turtle Clan also expressed her thoughts.

“Thank you all for being here […] to support the children of a genocide created by Canada, and the churches that allowed children to be murdered in these residential schools.”

Gabriel continued by mourning the lost lives of all the speakers, the artists, the singers, the musicians, the traditional knowledge keepers, and the medicine keepers that could have been standing with them.

“We are mourning,” she repeated. “We mourn the losses of lives that could have been standing with us.”

“This is our land, and no amount of roses and pavement and policies and lives can change that,” Gabriel added.

She proposed a solution of enforcement of education about Indigenous history in schools. Gabriel addresses this request to the government, and demands a change to educate the youth.

“They tell us our academics can take care of that. Well, education was used as a tool against Indigenous people. Now, we want to use that to turn the tables and use education so you can be assimilated on our terms.”

When discussing the government, Gabriel said the imposed laws are not helpful but rather a form to further oppress them.

“Your laws, they are not for us, they are to oppress us. Your laws, your justice system is to make sure that there is an erasure of Indigenous history in this land that claims to be a human rights defendant.”

Gabriel ended her speech by encouraging everyone to take more action after the demonstration.

“Don’t make this the last thing you do for those children who never came home.”

The speeches ended with a poem addressed to Legault shared by Elisapie, an Inuk singer and songwriter.

Her poem read, “You continue to defend Quebeckers against these accusations of racism from a few individuals, but where are we, the Natives of Quebec, in your speech?” 


Photo by Catherine Reynolds.


Sept. 30 is now a federal holiday

The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is a one to remember and honour the children and survivors of residential schools

Every year on Sept. 30, people across Canada participate in Orange Shirt Day to honour residential school survivors and spread awareness of the tragedy. However, this year will be the first time Sept. 30 is a federal holiday, despite the fact that many provinces are choosing not to recognize it as a statutory holiday.

The new statutory holiday is called the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — the outcome of legislation passed by the Canadian government in June, and is the result of one of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“We call upon the federal government, in collaboration with Aboriginal peoples, to establish, as a statutory holiday, a National Day for Truth and Reconciliation to honour Survivors, their families, and communities, and ensure that public commemoration of the history and legacy of residential schools remains a vital component of the reconciliation process,” states the commission.

“I don’t think we should be calling them residential schools anymore,” said Catherine Kinewesquao Richardson, who is Métis with Cree, Dene, and Gwich’in ancestry. She is the director of First Peoples studies at Concordia.

“Residential school is a euphemism, they want it to sound better,” she said. “It makes them feel a bit more protected if you call it a school rather than a prison camp. But if we are going to use the truth part in truth and reconciliation, then I think it’s time to call residential schools what they are, which is a prison camp.”

For Richardson, the Sept. 30 holiday, while a product of the 94 calls to action, was a direct result of the recent discovery of hundreds of bodies at residential schools across Canada.

In May, the remains of 215 children were found at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in BC. As of August, according to The Guardian, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been identified at five residential schools across Canada, but it’s estimated to rise to over 3,200. With 139 residential schools recognized by the federal government, and many more privately funded, that number is expected to increase by the thousands.

Many Indigenous people on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok have posted that, including the bodies found at American residential schools, the number of children’s bodies is over 6,500. However, that number is not considered official.

“While I’ve heard some reports about the child’s graves, it’s kind of sporadic every time something new happens,” said Richardson, who explained she doesn’t see the media reporting on the issue enough.

The holiday on Sept. 30 is not being recognized by many provinces, including Quebec. According to CTV news, Premier François Legault stated at a press conference that Quebec isn’t interested in having more statutory holidays, no matter the reason.

Concordia follows provincial statutory holidays, not federal ones, stated Vannina Maestracci, a spokesperson for Concordia.

“However, we have been marking the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation for some years through events organized and led by Concordia’s Indigenous staff and faculty,” said Maestracci.

She stated that since Sept. 30 is designed to promote awareness, Concordia, as it does every year, encourages students to wear an orange shirt in honour of the Indigenous children who were sent to residential schools.

Sept. 30 is commonly referred to as Orange Shirt Day, where people wear orange shirts to create a dialogue about residential schools, and to honour the survivors. The reason why people wear the colour orange is because of survivor Phyllis Webstad. When she went to her first day at a residential school wearing an orange shirt bought by her grandmother, it was taken away from Webstad, who was six at the time.

Maestracci also explained that this year the Indigenous Directions Office is holding a round table discussion on residential schools, and a story will be published by Manon Tremblay — who is nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Plains Cree) from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and the senior director of Indigenous Directions — about her grandmother, who was forcibly sent to residential school.

“I would tell you to take the time to reflect and take the time to educate oneself on that part of Canadian history,” said Tremblay when asked if she had advice for what people could do to show support on Sept. 30. “Reflect on or educate oneself on the intergenerational trauma that still persists today.”

For Tremblay, it is important to remember that while there are Indigenous people who didn’t go to residential school, their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents did, and that trauma is carried through the generations.

“That continues to influence who they are today because of the way that they were brought up, and some of the apprehensions that their parents and grandparents communicated to them,” said Tremblay. “And this is the sort of thing that we are still experiencing today.”

Tremblay explained that Concordia is doing a Indigenous Directions Action Plan in response to the calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The action plan was created in 2019, and aims to decolonize and Indigenize Concordia so that it can move forward based on responsibility, reciprocity, relevance and respect.

She also stated that the fact that Concordia is staying open for Sept. 30 is an opportunity to bring awareness to people on campus. If they were sent home, they would not think about the day and what it means. But if students are on campus, they have a chance to engage with the Indigenous community and have an honest discussion.


Juliet Mackie is a Métis (Cree/Gwich’in/English) Graduate Student, painter, and beadwork artist with maternal roots in Red River, MB and Fort Chipewyan, AB. Juliet’s great-grandmother Evelyn Wylie attended an Anglican day school as a child in Fort Chipewyan. Evelyn married a Swedish trapper, Alvar Oak, and raised their three daughters seasonally on a trapline at Hill Island Lake, NWT. Alvar established a small trappers school for his daughters and the children of the other trappers to protect them from being taken by the Indian Agent. In 1944, Evelyn moved with her daughters from Lake Athabasca to Edmonton where they attended a local school. They faced discrimination in Edmonton and were often referred to “halfbreeds.” Like many Métis families, they hid their identity to protect themselves from violence and racism. In her art practice, Juliet uses portraiture and beadwork to reclaim her Métis identity and celebrate Indigeneity. Her painting famii/family depicts Juliet and her brother as children. 


Painting by Juliet Mackie

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