Re­mov­ing his­tory works against rec­on­cil­i­a­tion: Sin­clair

Winnipeg Free Press - - TOP NEWS - KRISTY KIRKUP

OT­TAWA — Tear­ing down trib­utes to his­tor­i­cal fig­ures would be “coun­ter­pro­duc­tive” to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ef­forts be­tween Indige­nous and non-Indige­nous peo­ple, says the for­mer chair­man of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion.

Sen. Mur­ray Sin­clair, who spent six years doc­u­ment­ing the long-stand­ing im­pacts of Canada’s res­i­den­tial school sys­tem, says the de­bate over whether to re­move Sir John A. Mac­don­ald’s name from On­tario ele­men­tary schools takes up time that could be bet­ter spent ex­plor­ing how to honour and el­e­vate Indige­nous he­roes.

“It is not about tak­ing names off build­ings, it is about whether we can find a way to put Indige­nous names on build­ings,” Sin­clair said Tues­day in an in­ter­view with The Cana­dian Press.

“The prob­lem I have with the over­all ap­proach to tear­ing down stat­ues and build­ings is that is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to... rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­cause it al­most smacks of re­venge or smacks of acts of anger, but in re­al­ity, what we are try­ing to do, is we are try­ing to cre­ate more bal­ance in the re­la­tion­ship.”

Sin­clair’s re­marks come after the Ele­men­tary Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion of On­tario passed a con­tro­ver­sial mo­tion calling for the re­moval of Mac­don­ald’s name from schools.

The mo­tion rec­og­nizes that Mac­don­ald, the first prime min­is­ter of Canada, has been cel­e­brated based on an in­com­plete ver­sion of Cana­dian his­tory, the union said.

It notes he played a key role in de­vel­op­ing sys­tems that “per­pet­u­ated geno­cide against Indige­nous peo­ple.”

“It is prob­a­bly a fight, had I been asked, I would have said to avoid it,” Sin­clair said, adding his ap­proach would be to in­clude “shame­ful in­for­ma­tion” on a plaque along with prom­i­nent in­for­ma­tion.

Mac­don­ald clearly played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the es­tab­lish­ment of Canada but the es­tab­lish­ment of the coun­try also played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the de­struc­tion of Indige­nous cul­ture and so­ci­eties, he said.

“He clearly at­tempted to elim­i­nate Indige­nous cul­ture by re­mov­ing chil­dren from their fam­i­lies and plac­ing them with peo­ple of an­other race... for the pur­pose of wip­ing out the race of peo­ple known as ‘In­dian,’” Sin­clair said.

Mac­don­ald also cre­ated cir­cum­stances that fu­elled hard­ship for Indige­nous peo­ple, to the point where their po­ten­tial to sur­vive was chal­lenged, Sin­clair said.

“Both of which are right within the def­i­ni­tion of geno­cide within the con­ven­tion on geno­cide,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Con­ven­tion on the Preven­tion and Pu­n­ish­ment of the Crime of Geno­cide adopted by the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly in 1948.

On Mon­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said “un­equiv­o­cally” there are no plans to re­move Mac­don­ald’s name from build­ings or sites that are in the purview of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

“Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is not just about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween gov­ern­ment and Indige­nous peo­ples,” Trudeau said out­side the Gover­nor Gen­eral’s res­i­dence, fol­low­ing a cab­i­net shuf­fle.

“Non-Indige­nous Cana­di­ans have an es­sen­tial role to play in how we shape a bet­ter and more re­spon­si­ble fu­ture for ev­ery­one who shares this land and these con­ver­sa­tions are ex­tremely im­por­tant to have to re­flect on our past and to build the right fu­ture for­ward to­gether.”

In June, Trudeau de­cided to re­move the name of Hec­tor-Louis Langevin, a fa­ther of Con­fed­er­a­tion and ar­chi­tect of the res­i­den­tial school sys­tem, from the Ot­tawa build­ing that houses the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice.

“He bears a sig­nif­i­cant re­spon­si­bil­ity when it comes to the is­sue of res­i­den­tial schools and he de­serves, in my view, very lit­tle credit,” Sin­clair said.

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