By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
John A. Macdonald was also the father of the Residential School system in Canada that visited innumerable and unspeakable atrocities upon Indigenous people and for that reason statues and facilities that honour him should be taken down, remain down or re-named, a growing chorus of Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders have said.
Last week, federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller commented that “a fairly sizeable” number of his colleagues in the House of Commons have a hard time coming into and working in a building named for Macdonald after the discovery of 215 bodies of children buried in shallow graves outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in B.C.
Macdonald was Canada’s first Prime Minister, but the history books also need to reflect the literal and cultural genocide that Macdonald was responsible for, through his creation of the Residential Schools program and his actions as Prime Minister.
The building that housed the press conference where federal officials answered questions on a call last week is also named for Macdonald. It left some Indigenous leaders a little angry.
“The irony of the announcement and the type of messaging, and then the name of the building, is not lost on a lot of people,” said Sheila North, the former Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO). “These things are perpetuating the racism and perpetuating the hatred towards Indigenous people without even realizing.”
North added that paying tribute to the man who perpetuated such mistreatment of other human beings is deserving of the anger it engenders.
“It’s not unimaginable to see why people are angry, people are hurt, people are frustrated,” she said.
In Montreal, Macdonald’s legacy is being allowed to slowly disappear after protesters pulled down a statue of the former PM on September 1, 2020. The statue, which had stood in Place du Canada since 1895, had its head separated from its body upon impact. The statue was taken for repairs, and Montreal mayor Valerie Plante quietly announced the city would have internal discussions and speak with local Indigenous people before proceeding further.
Still, Macdonald tributes remain in place across Canada and are a source of frustration for Indigenous people, and for good reason, said a professor at the University of Manitoba.
“We’re teaching young people who we hold up,” said Niigaan Sinclair, whose father Murray Sinclair chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“You would never, not once, not ever expect a person who had been abused to go into a building named after their abuser, to have a statue or a likeness of that abuser being held up in reverence it’s an insult and it’s traumatizing.”
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the IORI:WASE . The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.