Indigenous MPs criticize renaming of PMO HQ
OTTAWA • The federal government is renaming the building housing the prime minister’s office so that it no longer bears the name of a father of Confederation and an architect of the residential school system.
But two of the MPs who asked for the change says the new name isn’t good enough.
The building, which is across from Parliament Hill, was known as the Langevin Block in recognition of Hector-Louis Langevin. It will now be known as the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday, National Aboriginal Day.
“We’ve heard from you ... and from many indigenous communities in the past year that there is a deep pain in knowing that that building carries a name so closely associated with the horror of residential schools,” Trudeau said.
Romeo Saganash, the NDP’s indigenous affairs critic, rose in the House of Commons to speak in Cree to criticize the choice.
“The prime minister wants to change the name of the building that houses his office. But did he consult with the Algonquin people? Or did he at least consult with the Penoshway family?” he said in a translation provided to the National Post by the NDP.
Saganash claims the Penoshway family was removed from the land where Parliament Hill is located before the Parliament buildings were constructed in the mid-1800s.
Indigenous leaders, including Saganash, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Liberal MPs Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Don Rusnak, and Independent MP Hunter Tootoo, began calling for the name change in February.
Georgina Jolibois, the NDP MP who tabled legislation this month calling for National Aboriginal Day to be a statutory holiday, said Trudeau should have first consulted indigenous MPs.
“It is just another building saying the Prime Minister’s Office,” she said. “That’s fine, but it ... is still a colonial system. It doesn’t really signify an aboriginal name, an aboriginal historical person.”
Bellegarde, however, applauded the announcement, calling it “part of reconciliation.”
“That’s part of rebuilding that nation-to-nation relationship” he said.
But Saganash said the new name is “a reaffirmation of the colonial institution that we’ve been facing for all these years.”
He addressed the prime minister exclusively in Cree during question period Wednesday, in protest of a recent Speaker’s ruling that the House doesn’t have the capacity to translate indigenous languages, as it does English and French.
Trudeau was forced to answer without knowing what he’d been asked.
“I thank the member opposite for his words and wish I had the capacity to understand the strong culture and language that he shared with us today,” he said.
Langevin, a lawyer and Conservative MP from Quebec who died in 1906, was a proponent of separating indigenous children from their parents to assimilate them.
His name has already been expunged from a bridge in Calgary, which was recently renamed Reconciliation Bridge.
On Wednesday, Trudeau also announced that 100 Wellington St. in Ottawa, the site of the former U.S. embassy across from Parliament Hill, will be converted into a new space for aboriginals.
“We hope that this place in the heart of our capital will serve as a permanent reminder that indigenous peoples are at the very heart of this great land,” he said.
National Aboriginal Day itself will also be renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day, starting next year.
The government has not indicated whether it will support an NDP private member’s bill to have the day declared a statutory holiday.