Calgary

Kenney speechwriter Paul Bunner meets with Indigenous leaders

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's speechwriter has met with Indigenous leaders in the province following criticism for columns he had written years ago that have been called racist. 

Writer criticized for old columns that critics have called racist and discriminatory

Chief Wilton Littlechild and Paul Bunner met for three hours on Sunday. (Government of Alberta)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's speechwriter has met with Indigenous leaders in the province following criticism for columns he had written years ago that have been called racist. 

Paul Bunner sat down last week with Indigenous leaders, including Chief Wilton Littlechild, one of the leaders of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Littlechild spoke with Bunner for three hours about the residential school system, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

"I wanted to try to find ways to work together," Littlechild said. 

He added that it was a frank but successful discussion, with both sides sharing their perspectives. While there wasn't overwhelming consensus, Littlechild said he's confident the groundwork has been laid for a productive relationship. 

"I think it was genuine." 

The chief said the provincial minister of Indigenous services reached out to co-ordinate the meeting shortly after Bunner's articles were reported in the media.

Many Indigenous groups have called for Bunner's resignation after several articles from the late 1990s to 2016 resurfaced two weeks ago. In the articles, he referred to the residential school system as a "bogus genocide story" and made other comments about people of colour and the LGBT community that have been deemed racist and offensive by critics. 

Speechwriter Paul Bunner met with Chief Willie Littlechild on the weekend. (International Organization of Indigenous Resource Development/Facebook)

Challenging, but productive

The contents of those articles were under scrutiny during their meeting.

"There were some challenging moments as well, but overall it was a forward and moving experience for all of us," the minister's office wrote in a statement. 

While Bunner made no apology, Littlechild said that wasn't his goal in taking the meeting. The chief says he does not have strong feelings about whether Bunner retains his position or not.

On Monday, the Treaty 8 chiefs also joined in the push for his dismissal. Chief Arthur Noskey said Bunner's writings were "harmful, divisive, dehumanizing and racist" toward Indigenous people. 

The opposition NDP has been pressing the UCP government on the topic daily.

The premier's office has resisted the pressure to fire Bunner, saying his columns do not reflect the policy of the provincial government and his views have since evolved. 

"We welcomed the thoughtful, productive discussion with the group, including Chief Littlechild," Kenney's office said in a statement after the meeting. 

The chief said he was surprised at how much he and Bunner had in common — including a mutual love of hockey. 

"There were links to our stories where we could open up in terms of 'let's chat some more,'" he said. 

The two men have committed to staying in touch in the future. 

Kenney hired Bunner as a speechwriter last spring. Bunner held the same position with former prime minister Stephen Harper from 2006 to 2009.

About the Author

Elise von Scheel is a reporter and producer with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau, currently working in Calgary. You can get in touch with her at elise.von.scheel@cbc.ca.

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