With the movement to remove statues of confederate figures in the United States, it was only a matter of time before Canada also started to reflect upon its own genocidal/colonial history and assess whether some of our forefathers (and foremothers) are worthy of the public adulation they have received.
A well intending Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) passed a motion calling for the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald’s name from schools in Ontario.
I just wonder what actual consideration has been given to the indigenous viewpoint.
With hundreds of reserves without access to clean water, drug/alcohol/suicide epidemics, access to nutritional food at a decent price, economic development opportunities, disproportionate amounts of missing and murdered indigenous women and incarceration rates, is there more productive discussions to be had?
And, can we find a way to honour more indigenous people for the work they’ve done in building our country?
Make no doubt that our first Prime Minister did many things to help build this country. But he was also a proponent of the Residential Schools system and held many other now abhorrent views on race and gender issues. But so too have many of our nation-builders.
Nellie McClung – suffragette instigator and believer in eugenics. Or, Tommy Douglas – father of our national health care system and also a believer in eugenics. These are just two of many – that Tristin Hopper does a great job of outlining here.
This is a complex debate and one that can be very passionate and requires some nuance. A texter named Jillian said this yesterday on the Ryan Jespersen show and it stuck with me;
“people seem incapable of differentiating between historical figures who held racist views vs. historic figures who are being celebrated for their racist views. For example Emily Murphy is recognized for her contribution to women’s rights not her xenophobia, Churchill is recognized for his military success and tenacity, not for his racism…”
Again, while well intended, the ETFO does not represent indigenous people, and in my view, their motion represents a slacktivist approach to reconciliation, that sidesteps the real hard work of implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report.
Interestingly, the TRC Report calls to action do not include renaming buildings and schools attached to historical figures.
If I were looking to make a difference in terms of reconciliation and building a new relationship I would talk to indigenous leaders and engage them in implementing the calls to action from the TRC Report.
I find it rarely effective when someone with no skin in the game starts delivering prescriptive solutions.
I would find it far more effectual, with limited exceptions, that we leave our historical figure’s names and monuments, but augment them with historically accurate information that explores the complexity of their views and actions within the lens of today’s society. These figures can provide teachable moments to today’s society. It is not enough to leave history to the books, as only the willing will seek out that knowledge; you need to take history to the places that people can, will, and are accessing it.
Remember that one day it will be us whose legacy is judged by our future generations. While we may seem progressive and at the forefront today, history shows that looking back we will be looked at as laggards by future societal standards.
Let us hope our history isn’t erased by well meaning, but misguided notions that the progress we have made today wasn’t enough, but instead we are seen as we are, imperfect people who have a capacity for greatness and to make mistakes.
I’ve attached a couple of other perspectives for reading on this issue below:
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