Our his­tor­i­cal stat­ues of lim­i­ta­tion

Truro Daily News - - Colchester County - Rob Ma­clel­lan

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.”

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