Co-chair of Liberals' Indigenous commission resigns after questions emerge about ancestry

·2 min read
Suzy Kies has resigned as co-chair of the Indigenous Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada. (CRESTWOOD.ON.CA - image credit)
Suzy Kies has resigned as co-chair of the Indigenous Commission of the Liberal Party of Canada. (CRESTWOOD.ON.CA - image credit)

Suzy Kies, the co-chair of the Indigenous peoples' commission of the Liberal Party, has resigned from the position after her claim to Indigenous ancestry was called into question.

Radio-Canada reported on Wednesday that it could not confirm Kies's claims to Indigenous ancestry. Kies told Radio-Canada in an interview that her father is of European descent and her mother is of Indigenous descent.

"My mother's family is from several communities," she told Radio-Canada in an interview in French. "On my grandfather's side, it's the Maliseet, from St. Mary's, New Brunswick, there are also the Laporte who are Innu. And my grandmother was Abenaki from Odanak."

In Radio-Canada's reporting, they consulted civil status records and the Abenaki Council of Odanak, who did not find Kies on the band list.

The story came following controversy over a book-burning project at a francophone Ontario school board in which Kies was involved. The event, which was carried out by the Conseil scolaire catholique Providence in 2019, has resurfaced during the election campaign and has attracted condemnation by federal leaders.

The event was meant to promote reconciliation by burning and disposing of books the school board deemed to contain outdated and inappropriate depictions of Indigenous people. The books included novels, comic books and encyclopedias, according to a documentary obtained by Radio-Canada. Nearly 5,000 books were disposed of, but only around 30 were burned.

The school board told Radio-Canada Wednesday that it regrets the event, and that it will revise its process for removing books it deems harmful to Indigenous people.

In a statement in French, Kies disputes the reporting on her ancestry. She said that her family did genealogical research in the early 1990s that showed her family is of Abenaki ancestry.

"It confirmed what my grandmother always told us," she said in the statement.

Kies had held the position since 2017.

"Suzy is an urban Indigenous woman of Abenaki and Montagnais-Naskape ancestry," said the Liberal news release announcing her appointment. "Suzy brings vigorous campaigning skills and a passion to raise awareness and effect positive change for the betterment of Indigenous communities, both within the party and within Canada."

In her statement, Kies said she is resigning to protect the party.

"I refuse to have my story used to harm Justin Trudeau and our party," she said. "This is the reason why I am resigning from my position as co-chair of the Indigenous peoples' commission."

Her resignation came just hours before a French-language debate between federal leaders.

"Despite the hurtful questioning of my ancestry, identity and culture, I will continue my work to advance reconciliation and honour my family history," Kies said in the statement.

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