Value of history kept, not whitewashed

In Montreal, a 17-metre statue of John A. Macdonald, our first Prime Minister, is regularly vandalized with red paint and regularly cleaned up.

In the City of Victoria, its council recently approved removal of John A. Macdonald’s statue from its historical spot.

One group are criminals, the other group are people with power who seem to think whitewashing our history will somehow make things better for our indigenous peoples.

John A. Macdonald played a key role in creating residential schools, but the idea came straight from England when we were still a British colony. The first residential school, Hospice St. Joseph, was opened in Alberta in 1862, five years before confederation.

With hindsight, we now know the long-term cultural affects these schools had on destroying the rich tradition and culture of our indigenous peoples and subsequent generations.

The churches involved thought they were doing the right thing, but today’s churches have admitted to their sin and wrong thinking and many are making recompense.

Macdonald was not a one-off racist, unfortunately, that was the standard belief of the time.

That doesn’t make it right but gives context to his actions.

Morality, cultural acceptability and right and wrong evolve over time. When we forget or whitewash history, all its ugliest can more easily be repeated.

Again consciously or unconsciously we too often conflate American history with Canadian history. The fight currently happening in the United States regarding the removal of Confederate statues has absolutely no historical parallel in Canada.

John A. Macdonald was a builder of the country of Canada with values we now consider wrong. American confederates fought to destroy the United States and deny the American Constitution and continue to use these statues as rallying points for the same reasons today.

Canada is not racist-free, humanly impossible, but the vast majority of our political leaders, church leaders and citizens are listening to and accepting victim’s true and powerful horror stories from their time in residential schools.

We are learning about our broken promises under the treaties. As a society, we better understand how the past has caused today’s employment, family, housing, incarceration and suicide issues amongst our First Nations. Although certainly not fast enough for victims, positive changes are happening. That’s the value of history kept, not history whitewashed.

The City of Montreal and the City of Victoria are a study in contrasts. Montreal continues to build their relationships with indigenous people, but will not remove historical statues including John A. Macdonald’s. They choose instead to add history by erecting new statues and testaments to native culture and history.

The City of Victoria may sincerely think they are helping the indigenous peoples by removing John A Macdonald’s statue but, unfortunately, and not surprisingly, that decision only inflames anger and prejudice among the majority and will make matters worse for our indigenous peoples.

It’s noteworthy that the once defeated French colony understands the importance of keeping all history— French, English and indigenous—in our collective conscience.

Let us hope that the City Council of Victoria will be the minority voice in Canada and the wisdom of Montreal’s City Council will prevail.

 

B. Schimke

ECA Review

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