Our historical statues of limitation
To remove or not to remove historical statues?
The first one to go was the statue of Edward Cornwallis in Halifax, the second was the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Victoria.
I’ve been sitting on this one for a while, weighing the merits of all sides of the argument, both pro and con. It’s risky to advocate for one side or the other because this issue has been very galvanizing, very polarizing, and a whole lot of other-izing words.
Statues are erected to honour the deeds of people who have made significant achievements or contributions, and they are rarely commissioned and erected without serious consideration.
Recent revelations and discussions around the less than stellar qualities and inhumane acts of these above-named men have precipitated the removal of their inanimate likenesses. I must confess my gut reaction is to be ashamed of these men’s treatment of the indigenous people of Canada.
I am a student of history, and I was a teacher of history, so I do have a fondness for the subject. True enough that most histories that have been written and presented to young and old alike have been heavily biased versions thereof, so wherein lies the truth? I’m reminded of the sensory-deprived men whose task it was to describe an elephant.
I think there are a lot of truths, given truth is that which is chronicled and experienced. The experience component is critical, as no two personal experiences can be identical. It then falls to that which is generally accepted, wherein opens the door to human error. Obviously, there is a philosophical discussion to be pursued here. Another time perhaps.
The truth should be told, and this period of reconciliation is a perfect time to have these conversations. These conversations will serve to bring close our disparate populations.
That said, I believe it is an error to remove these statues. I believe that we would be much better served by the statues remaining in place, accompanied by plaques that depict the whole story around these individuals. In this way, we highlight not only their great acts, but also the negative acts they perpetrated; truth in all forms.
The truth about these men under discussion is not in question; moral high-grounds seem to be the elevation from which the majority of accusations are hurled. It seems to be the new national pastime of Canadians today to vilify former or current national icons or figures of note.
When cultures or political forces clash, as they did when Europeans sought to settle in a North America that was already populated by indigenous peoples, it is almost inevitable heinous acts will be perpetrated, one group against the other, each group seeking to achieve superiority, to satisfy their particular missions.
Is this ok? The answer to this would bring us back to philosophical questions. The discussions of what is or is not right are moot given events chronicled in the history of the world. However, each culture should be free to erect monuments recognizing the important contributions of individuals within their culture.
Moving forward in deciding what does or does not offend us, I am minded of a Biblical passage from the King James version that reads, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
We might do well to be guided by this. It is hypocritical to expect better of others than we are willing to demonstrate ourselves.
It is also a mistake to judge events of the past by the cultural norms of today.
“I believe it is an error to remove these statues. I believe that we would be much better served by the statues remaining in place, accompanied by plaques that depict the whole story around these individuals. In this way, we highlight not only their great acts, but also the negative acts they perpetrated; truth in all forms.”