Time to scrub Amherst’s name from site

It’s about re­mov­ing re­minder of man who rep­re­sents op­pres­sion for In­dige­nous peo­ple

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Wayne Young In My View Wayne Young is an in­struc­tor in the jour­nal­ism pro­gram at Hol­land Col­lege in Char­lot­te­town.

Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau fa­mously re­sponded, “Be­cause it’s 2015,” when asked why gen­der par­ity was so im­por­tant to him.

The newly elected PM had just un­veiled the first gen­der­bal­anced cab­i­net in Cana­dian his­tory.

It was the right thing to do. In Ot­tawa last week, Trudeau stripped Hec­tor-Louis Langevin’s name from a fed­eral build­ing that houses the PM’s of­fice. Langevin was an early ad­vo­cate of the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem, one he thought would be the quick­est way to as­sim­i­late First Na­tions chil­dren. In­stead, it re­sulted in the phys­i­cal, emo­tional and sex­ual abuse of many stu­dents. Re­mov­ing his name from this build­ing was the right thing to do.

Trudeau should also do the right thing when it comes to the name of a na­tional his­toric site in P.E.I. that’s an ir­ri­tant for some In­dige­nous peo­ple here. In fact, one First Na­tions leader re­turned his Or­der of P.E.I. medal in protest.

Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst is a na­tional his­toric site named af­ter Jef­fery Amherst, a Bri­tish gen­eral¬ who es­tab­lished the fort near Rocky Point soon af­ter the Bri­tish took Louisbourg from the French in 1758. There is ev­i­dence in his cor­re­spon­dence to other Bri­tish mil­i­tary that he pro­posed dis­tribut­ing small­pox-laced blan­kets among the First Na­tions peo­ple on the Is­land “to ex­tir­pate this ex­e­crable race.” (Ox­ford Con­cise dic­tio­nary trans­la­tion – “to root out and de­stroy com­pletely this ex­tremely bad or un­pleas­ant race.”)

Parks Canada, through its sites and mon­u­ments board, has re­fused to re­move the name. It rea­sons the site does not com­mem­o­rate or cel­e­brate the ac­tions of Amherst, but it does com­mem­o­rate the fact that the site served as the seat of gov­ern­ment for French and then Bri­tish colo­nial gov­ern­ments. It has pro­posed adding the his­toric Mi’kmaq name for the site to the ti­tle.

In the wake of Trudeau’s scrub­bing of Langevin’s name from a fed­eral build­ing in Ot­tawa, would it re­ally be too much to ask that Amherst’s name be re­moved from the Is­land site? Granted, the cases aren’t iden­ti­cal but they do share one key sim­i­lar­ity: both names are con­sid­ered of­fen­sive – with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – by groups of In­dige­nous peo­ple.

The com­pro­mise of adding a Mi’kmaq name to the ti­tle doesn’t sit well with John Joe Sark, the Mi’kmaq keptin who re­turned his Or­der of P.E.I. medal last spring. In an in­ter­view with The Na­tional Post, he said hav­ing a Mi’kmaq name along­side Amherst’s would be an in­sult and a dis­grace.

When he an­nounced the Langevin name change, Trudeau said there is a “deep pain” in know­ing the build­ing car­ries a name so closely as­so­ci­ated with the hor­rors of res­i­den­tial schools. Dur­ing a re­cent visit to P.E.I., Trudeau said he’s will­ing to lis­ten to con­cerns about the Is­land name and to hav­ing dis­cus­sions on how they can move for­ward “in a way that is re­spect­ful.”

If he could strip Langevin’s name from an Ot­tawa fed­eral build­ing out of re­spect for In­dige­nous peo­ples, Trudeau should be bound to re­move Amherst’s name from the fed­eral park in P.E.I.

It’s about show­ing re­spect to a re­silient group of Is­lan­ders who, over sev­eral cen­turies, have had to fight to save their cul­ture un­der of­ten-op­pres­sive con­di­tions. It’s about re­mov­ing what is a con­stant re­minder of a man who rep­re­sents that op­pres­sion for some First Na­tions peo­ple here.

It’s also 2017 … and it’s the right thing to do.

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