By Caitrin Pilkington
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Assembly of First Nations leaders will campaign for a monument on Parliament Hill in recognition of atrocities committed by the British and Canadian governments.
The resolution was put forward at a December meeting by the Chief of Millbrook First Nation in Nova Scotia, and seconded by the N.W.T.’s Chief Frank Andrew of the Tulita Dene Band.
The document presented at that meeting, the assembly’s annual general meeting in Ottawa, highlights a number of specific harms perpetrated by Canada against Indigenous people, such as the elimination of the Beothuk People in Newfoundland, the execution of six Chilcotin chiefs in central British Columbia, and the displacement and destruction of Blondin family homes in the N.W.T.’s Norman Wells oilfield.
AFN is calling for the federal government to name these events and include them in the memorial description. The assembly hopes to collaborate with Heritage Canada on the design, construction and installation of the monument, with input from Nations across the country.
“These are missing chapters in Canadian history,” said Dene filmmaker Raymond Yakeleya, one of the monument’s advocates.
“This monument is a chance to say, ‘this is what happened.’
There will be a place for us on Parliament Hill, a place for First Nations to rally if they want to, cry if they want to, sing if they want to.”
In Yellowknife, deputy mayor Stacie Arden Smith presented a motion to city councillors at the end of January, appealing for the municipality and Government of the Northwest Territories to join the movement.
“Its intent is to finally have Indigenous peoples take their place on Parliament Hill, amongst the many statues of the settlers of the past,” Smith said in an address to council.
“It is to be a place of refuge, a sacred post, symbolizing that through all the dark moments in history, we are still here, we are resilient, and we will fight to never see those horrible injustices again. It is our hope that this project will reach all the capital cities in Canada, and that they will help build this honour for our First People.”
Smith told Cabin Radio that while the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended creating a monument in recognition of residential schools, this is not the same campaign.
“I hope people see that there’s a distinction between the two,”
Smith said. “Not to take away from the calls to action but, you know, there have been injustices that have happened to Indigenous people living on Turtle Island long before residential schools.”
Smith said she hopes to see advocacy for the monument from the city as well as Indigenous governments across the territory and beyond.
The grounds of Parliament Hill in Ottawa are home to more than 20 statues and monuments. All honour white people except a memorial to police officers killed on duty and the Victoria Bell, which technically honours a fallen tower.
Smith says that fact, shared with her by Yakeleya, took her aback.
“I honestly didn’t realize that we didn’t have a monument to any Indigenous people whatsoever,” she said. “I was shocked when I heard that. It’s a lot of white people and Europeans and politicians. No representation of Indigenous people at all, not even the ones who risked their lives to help settlers that would otherwise have died here.”
“Some say there should be a sacred fire. In B.C., they say whenever they do something important, they always put up a totem pole,” said Yakeleya.
“It’s early in the game for us, but we will be asking for designs from our great artists across the country. We will be asking for guidance from Elders, and leaders, and youth.”
The resolution put forward in December describes a structure that would serve as a reminder, a redress for past wrongs, as well as a highlight for all that First Peoples have contributed to Canadian society.
For Smith and Yakeleya, the monument not only recognizes the past but symbolizes reconciliation and the dream of a better future.
“It would have great significance for us to create something that honours our people on Parliament Hill,” said Yakelaya.
“We want it to be in a place where it can be seen by the elected MPs that go marching in to make laws in this country. For them to remember that they’re there to make the lives of the people better, not to hurt like they’ve done in the past.
“That’s the best message we can send, because God knows we need help, and we have a long-enough list of all the ways that we’ve been hurt. So I think it will be an emotional event, an emotional project.”
Northwest Territories Regional Chief Gerald Antoine and Chief Andrew did not return requests for comment on the AFN vote by the time of publication.
Caitrin Pilkington is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with CABIN RADIO.
The LJI is a federally funded program.