Indigenous teacher alleges systemic racism within the Calgary Catholic School District

After years of feeling marginalized by certain staff and administration within the Calgary Catholic School District, a teacher at Bishop O’Byrne High School is speaking out.

Paul Kuster, who is a teacher, a comedian and also a former broadcaster said a number of racist incidents within the hallways of the school have deeply impacted him.

“I’ve had enough, I need to go public. People need to know this is a very real situation,” Kuster said.

Kuster said he was motivated to come forward after attending a Calgary event showcasing the “Black Lives Matter” movement. He feels it’s time to give voice to his experiences.

He detailed a complaint letter to administration listing a number of incidents, among them, the very first day he started.

“My very first day I was wearing a backpack and I had a fauxhawk and a female staff member walked up to me very aggressively and said: ‘Who are you and what do you think are you doing here?’ I said: ‘I work here’ and the look on her face you could tell she wasn’t expecting that,” Kuster said.

In the complaint letter, Kuster pointed to a specific interaction with a colleague about a culturally inappropriate craft, a student headdress project involving construction paper feathers.

“I said: ‘While I love what you’re doing I’m concerned about the headdress.’ She apologized and I said, ‘Don’t apologize, it’s coming from the heart and I applaud you.’”

Leadership at the school promised a follow-up conversation about it, one he says never happened.

“He said: ‘I’m sorry I forgot.’ That’s cool, I said: “Thank you for the apology.’ But the thing that’s disturbing is, they didn’t come to me and offer a solution to right these wrongs,” Kuster said. “All they want to do is apologize and think hopefully Kuster accepted it and we are done, No problem. Unfortunately no, there is a problem.

“This ugly reality of systemic racism is very real I’ve experienced it throughout my life and particularly with the Calgary Catholic School District.”

He’s now taken his concerns to the superintendent of the district. When Global News asked for comment on these incidents the Calgary Catholic School District provided a statement.

“Due to privacy concerns, the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) is unable to speak to specific incidents regarding staff. When a situation is brought to our attention, it is dealt with individually, on a case-by-case basis. The CCSD has recently formed a committee to examine and address racism and discrimination. The district has zero tolerance for any instances of racism and discrimination at our schools or work-sites,” the statement read.

Kuster said he agonized over coming forward fearing consequences.

“I’m afraid of repercussions but I am man enough to stand up and take this on,” Kuster said.

Having experienced a lifetime of being discriminated, Kuster gets emotional talking about it.

“It isolates you and it feels like you’re torn inside out and its humiliating,” Kuster said.

He also said over his five years at the school, one particular colleague consistently made inappropriate comments in front of other staff about his Indigenous roots, passing it off as a joke. He said he’s never witnessed anybody holding that colleague to account and or come to his defense.

“I’ve known this person for years. Every time I see him, he always has some native joke,” Kuster said.

He’s suggesting the Catholic District mandate professional development sessions to include aboriginal heritage and cultural sensitivity training.

“I do not want to come across as angry native guy, we’ve all heard that dialogue and narrative. Am I the angry Indigenous man? Yes. However I am prepared to work with Calgary Catholic School District and work with them in a spirit of reconciliation to come up with solution.”

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