Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke was invited to the University of Regina to give a lecture on Indigenous poetry. Clarke has decided to cancel his appearance at the University after a great deal of controversy arose due to his affiliations with poet Steven Kummerfield who beat and killed an Indigenous woman.
The University of Regina received several calls from angry people demanding Clarke’s lecture be cancelled. Clarke felt he had to withdraw from the lecture because of this.
In a statement to Global News Clarke said, “After further reflection about the issue of my proposed lecture at the University of Regina, scheduled for January 23, it is with great sadness that I have decided to withdraw from this presentation.”
He later added, “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. So regrettably, I have asked the University of Regina to cancel my appearance.”
Kummerfield was found guilty of the terrible crime of killing Pamela George, who he and an accomplice beat and left to die in 1995. Kummerfield was paroled in 2000 after 5 years—a fairly short amount of time for the crime committed. He then changed his name to Steven Brown and began writing poetry.
Though Kummerfield technically served his time, many people did not want someone who was affiliated with him in any way to be speaking at the university for such a topic.
Clarke said to Global News that he was not aware of Kummerfield’s crime until four months earlier. When he mentioned that he may share some of Kummerfield’s poetry at the university, the controversy started.
In a statement on Friday, Clarke said he “never intended to cause such anguish for the family of Pamela George and the Indigenous community.” and added, “For that, I am truly sorry.”
Cancel culture has become the norm for many people and has become especially common around Universities. Clarke was not cancelled by the University, who stood by their initial invitation, but felt he had to cancel the event himself, assuming the lecture would be overshadowed by the controversy.
Clarke mentioned that learning of Kummerfield’s actions has changed his perspective on him. He is affiliated with Kummerfield, who has committed a terrible crime, but he is also not responsible for Kummerfield’s actions.
Clarke was attending the university with only good intentions and planned to examine indigenous injustices(part of the title of his lecture). He was sympathetic to the families and indigenous groups who were more sensitive to the subject. Though his decision is respectable, attempting to take away his platform is unfair to him and those who intended to listen to his lecture.
It doesn’t seem right when an established poet, playwright and literary critic feels he has to step down from a lecture that nobody is being forced to attend.