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'I am truly sorry': George Elliott Clarke withdraws from lecture at U of R following backlash
REGINA -- Poet George Elliott Clarke has withdrawn from his scheduled lecture at the University of Regina which sparked controversy after details of his relationship with a convicted killer came to light.
Clarke was invited to deliver the Woodrow Lloyd Lecture on Jan. 23. His talk is entitled "Truth and Reconciliation versus the Murdered and Missing: Examining Indigenous Experiences of (In)Justice in Four Saskatchewan Poets."
The University of Regina was urged to cancel the lecture by the celebrated Canadian poet, but the school said doing so would go against its principles.
Clarke has edited poetry by Steven Kummerfield, who now goes by the name Stephen Brown. Kummerfield and his friend Alex Ternowetsky were convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of Pamela George near the Regina airport in 1995.
“I never intended to cause such anguish for the family of Pamela George and the Indigenous community, and for that I am truly sorry. I am a mixed Black and Indigenous writer and scholar, and my advocacy for justice for Indigenous Peoples and People of Colour in Canada must never be in doubt,” Clarke said in a statement emailed by his agent.
“My purpose in my talk was to discuss the role of poets in dealing with social issues, but that interest has been lost in the current controversy.”
Kummerfield was sentenced to six and a half years in prison and granted parole in 2000 in a case that underscored the racism Indigenous people in Saskatchewan face. He now lives in Mexico.
In a statement released on Friday, the U of R said it is "committed to the principles of free speech, thought and expression," but "recognizes there is much work to do" on the road to reconciliation. The university said it will not seek a replacement speaker fo this year's event.
"In an effort to hear people’s concerns and perhaps begin a healing process, the University of Regina, through its Office of Indigenization, is in the process of reaching out to a number of Indigenous leaders, representatives, elders, and groups. We are seeking to engage our Indigenous stakeholders in open discussions,"
"It's still such an open wound in our community," Misty Longman, manager of the university's ta-tawaw Student Centre, said Thursday.
With files from the Canadian Press.