Bank of Mon­treal ready to re­move of­fen­sive marker

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - GIUSEPPE VALIANTE MON­TREAL —

Michael Rice said grow­ing up as a Mo­hawk child, he was told to be pre­pared to come across por­tray­als of Indige­nous peo­ple as the “bad guys.”

“We are used to be­ing bashed as Iro­quois,” the high school his­tory teacher said in an in­ter­view. “We are like the Rus­sians in the Cold War.”

An ex­am­ple of Iro­quois bash­ing, he said, is the stone marker on the fa­cade of the Bank of Mon­treal build­ing in the city’s his­toric Place d’Armes square, one of Mon­treal’s top tourist des­ti­na­tions.

Across the street from a statue of the founder of Mon­treal, Paul de Chomedey, sieur de Maison­neuve, is an en­grav­ing ded­i­cated to a man he killed in 1644.

“Near this square af­ter­wards named La Place d’Armes the founders of Ville-Marie first en­coun­tered the Iro­quois whom they de­feated,” the marker reads. “Paul de Chomedey de Maison­neuve killing the chief with his own hands. March 1644.”

A few feet away is a sec­ond stone marker with the same mes­sage in French.

The Iro­quois, or Six Na­tions, form a con­fed­er­acy com­pris­ing the Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mo­hawk and Tus­carora. They call them­selves Hau­denosaunee.

Rice, 48, who is from Kah­nawake and now lives in Deux-Mon­tagnes, Que., north of Mon­treal, said he first com­plained of the en­grav­ings to bank em­ploy­ees in 1992 but noth­ing came of it.

Twenty-five years later, a bank spokesper­son told The Cana­dian Press the stone mark­ers are com­ing down.

Bank spokesper­son Va­lerie Doucet said in an email Que­bec’s Cul­ture Depart­ment has been no­ti­fied.

“The depart­ment in­formed us that they would meet us soon,” Doucet said. “On our side, we have al­ready ob­tained a sub­mis­sion from a spe­cial­ized firm to re­move and re­place the two stones on which the text has been en­graved.

She said the Bank of Mon­treal build­ing has been des­ig­nated a her­itage site and there­fore au­tho­riza­tion is needed from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment be­fore work can be­gin to re­move the marker.

“As soon as we get that au­tho­riza­tion, we will go ahead,” Doucet said. “The text was en­graved on the build­ing’s stones be­fore the Bank of Mon­treal ac­quired it in the early 1980s.”

City spokesper­son Marc-An­dre Gos­selin said the BMO build­ing is a pro­tected her­itage site.

“This build­ing is listed as his­toric and we are work­ing with the Que­bec gov­ern­ment on this case and about how to pro­ceed.”

Rice said he doesn’t want the mark­ers re­moved.

In­stead, he sug­gests an­other marker be added to the bank’s fa­cade in or­der to show the Abo­rig­i­nal view­point. “We need to put into con­text the fact that the Iro­quois chief was de­fend­ing his ter­ri­tory,” Rice said. “De­pict­ing (the Iro­quois) as fish wait­ing to be shot or as blood­thirsty Iro­quois doesn’t do jus­tice to his­tory.”

Rice’s po­si­tion high­lights the on­go­ing de­bate in North Amer­ica around whether stat­ues and other his­tor­i­cal sym­bols — deemed of­fen­sive by some — should be re­moved or pre­served in or­der to stim­u­late dis­cus­sion.

Hal­i­fax’s city coun­cil voted in April to con­vene an ex­pert panel to rec­om­mend what to do about mu­nic­i­pal land­marks pay­ing trib­ute to Colonel Ed­ward Corn­wal­lis, who founded Hal­i­fax in 1749 and soon af­ter is­sued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in re­sponse to an at­tack on colonists. The Mi’kmaq have long called for re­moval of trib­utes to Corn­wal­lis, some call­ing his ac­tions a form of geno­cide.

PAUL CHI­AS­SON, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A marker is seen on the Bank of Mon­treal head­quar­ters in Mon­treal. The plaque praises the founder of Mon­treal for de­feat­ing the Iro­quois.

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