A slip­pery slope

Re­nam­ing sites like Fort Amherst as a means of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is mis­guided

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY EARLE LOCKERBY Earle Lockerby has writ­ten many ar­ti­cles, in­clud­ing peer-re­viewed pa­pers, on Is­land history and has au­thored and co-au­thored sev­eral books.

My June 8 let­ter to the The Guardian ex­plained, based on pri­mary doc­u­ments, how Gen­eral Jef­frey Amherst be­came as­so­ci­ated with the dis­tri­bu­tion of small­pox-con­tam­i­nated blan­kets to Indige­nous peo­ple. His sug­ges­tion in this re­gard re­lated to the Shawnee and Delaware peo­ples of Penn­syl­va­nia, not the Mi’kmaq. No one has dis­puted this. No mat­ter.

On July 3, in her piece about Fort Amherst, Guardian re­porter Teresa Wright wrote that Amherst “tried to mur­der lo­cal Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple with small­pox blan­kets.” Un­less Shawnees and Delawares are con­sid­ered “lo­cal Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple,” Wright is in­cor­rect.

On July 15, Hol­land Col­lege jour­nal­ism in­struc­tor Wayne Young wrote in his opin­ion piece that Amherst “pro­posed dis­tribut­ing small­pox-laced blan­kets among the First Na­tions peo­ple on the Is­land.” I chal­lenge him to pro­vide proof of this claim; read­ing it in some book or news­pa­per (sec­ondary sources) is no proof.

“Fake news” from Wright and Young, who are both in the busi­ness of jour­nal­ism (in­clud­ing, in Young’s case, teach­ing it), is un­for­tu­nate, par­tic­u­larly af­ter my at­tempt to set the record straight for Guardian read­ers — do these two not read The Guardian? Or is it a ques­tion of their opin­ion or re­cy­cled in­for­ma­tion trump­ing facts?

Yes, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Indige­nous peo­ple is highly over­due. How­ever, in my view, re­nam­ing places, sites and struc­tures as a means of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is mis­guided. Af­ter drop­ping Amherst’s name from the fort at Rocky Point, are we to pro­ceed to ex­punge his name from Amherst Cove, Amherst Point and Amherst Cove Con­sol­i­dated School? In our re­vi­sion­ist purge, let’s not for­get Rollo Bay — Lord Rollo wiped out the Is­land’s Aca­dian pop­u­la­tion, de­port­ing about 3,000 Is­land Aca­di­ans in 1758, half of whom died of ship-borne dis­ease and drown­ing.

Let’s ag­i­tate for the re­nam­ing of Amherst, N.S. Is­lan­ders of Scot­tish her­itage may be af­fronted by Cum­ber­land County, N.S., named af­ter the Duke of Cum­ber­land, also known as the “Butcher of Cul­lo­den,” and ar­guably the most de­spised fig­ure in Scot­tish history. He is in­fa­mous for the slaugh­ter of many flee­ing Ja­co­bites. Monc­ton, N.B., must also be in our sights. In 1758 Col. Robert Mon­ck­ton burned the Aca­dian set­tle­ments along the Saint John River from Saint John to Gage­town.

Back on the Is­land, we are con­fronted by In­dian River — “In­dian” is no longer con­sid­ered an ap­pro­pri­ate word in gen­eral con­ver­sa­tion, so this com­mu­nity will need re­nam­ing. Where does that leave the In­dian River Fes­ti­val, its name sig­ni­fy­ing ex­cel­lence na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally, thereby do­ing the Is­land proud?

And fi­nally, Sav­age Har­bour. I don’t mean to be in­sen­si­tive, but why are peo­ple get­ting bent out of shape over Fort Amherst while blithely over­look­ing the place name Sav­age Har­bour? I don’t need to get into the et­y­mol­ogy of this name with all its colonial con­no­ta­tions — first French (Havre aux Sau­vages) and later English. This place name could be con­sid­ered down­right deroga­tory.

History is as it is. Not sur­pris­ingly, many his­tor­i­cal fig­ures did not act in ac­cor­dance with to­day’s norms. When we start down the slip­pery slope of nomen­cla­ture re­vi­sion­ism or statue re­moval, where does it end? Let’s ex­er­cise some his­tor­i­cal perspective.

GUARDIAN FILE PHOTO

The en­trance to Park’s Canada’s Port-la-Joye-Fort Amherst his­toric site near Rocky Point, P.E.I.

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