City of Edmonton scraps Joseph Boyden's speaking slot at culture event

As controversy swirls over author Joseph Boyden's Indigenous heritage, the City of Edmonton has cancelled his scheduled appearance at a conference next month.

Boyden was supposed to speak about winter culture at the Winter Cities Shake-Up

The City of Edmonton has cancelled author Joseph Boyden's speech that was slated for next month at the Winter Cities Shake-Up event in February. (Gareth Hampshire/CBC)

As controversy swirls over author Joseph Boyden's Indigenous heritage, the City of Edmonton has cancelled his scheduled appearance at a conference next month.

The city-sponsored Winter Cities Shake-Up is scheduled for Feb. 16 to 18. Organizers said they made the decision after much thought and "many conversations with local Indigenous leaders."

Boyden signed on to speak about winter culture at the event before the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network launched an investigation into his heritage late last month.

APTN reporter Jorge Barrera's piece, which questioned claims of Indigenous ancestry Boyden has made throughout his life, has sparked a firestorm of debate on social media and made international headlines.

Last week, the Canadian novelist released a statement saying his heritage isn't neatly laid out in official records but instead rooted in stories told by his family.

The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner behind Through Black Spruce described himself as "a white kid from Willowdale with native roots."

An official with Winter Cities Shake-Up says they didn't want Boyden's appearance to take away from the focus of the conference, which is on improving the quality of life in cities during the season through design, culture and business.

"We did speak with him last week about, in light of the controversy, how he might amend his presentation and he was very understanding of the focus of the conference being on winter," Susan Holdsworth, chairwoman of Winter Cities Shake-Up, said Thursday in a phone interview.

They also consulted with local Indigenous leaders to make sure they were being respectful of their communities and maintaining positive relationships with them.

"In the end we just decided it was potentially going to distract from what the conference is about," said Holdsworth.

The city paid Boyden a deposit for his appearance, Holdsworth added. She wasn't sure how the cancellation would affect that or any other fee he may have been promised.

"We're still working out the details with his agency, so I can't comment on that just yet," she said. "I don't know how exactly that will work out."

Boyden still scheduled with EPL

Despite the city's cancellation, Boyden is still scheduled to speak on April 27 as part of the Edmonton Public Library's Forward Thinking Speaker Series.

In an emailed statement, the EPL said Boyden was not brought on as an "authoritative voice on Indigenous issues, but rather as a celebrated Canadian author" who has worked extensively on Indigenous issues.

"EPL recognizes the issue at hand and we have consulted with the community in terms of our decision, including with our own Indigenous relations advisor, our incoming elder in residence and others."

With files from CBC News