Good memorials, bad memorials of residential schools

First Nations show the way to reconciliation. Protestors with other agendas should pay heed.

Tk’emlúps residential school. Image: APTN News

In a transformative move, Indigenous Canadians have designated the residential schools that robbed them of their language, art and culture into historic sites.

Not just the school buildings themselves but the whole residential school system has been designated as an historic significance.

The recent move was a collaboration of The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) and its survivors circle, Parks Canada, and the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

So far, just two schools have been named historic sites but more are expected.

Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said that recognition of schools in Nova Scotia and Manitoba as national historic sites is a good starting point. He intends to push to have others recognized as well (Globe and Mail, September 1, 2020).

The Tk’emlúps residential school in Kamloops seems like a good candidate to be next.

The goal of the Tk’emlúps school is to educating Canadians. Their website states:

“Our goal is to make ourselves more accessible to the public and certainly to our membership. Throughout your visit you will have access to information in various departments and corporations as well as gain a better understanding of the complexity of our organization.”

A visit to the residential school made an impression on my son when he visited the reserve while attending elementary school.

Lorraine Daniels, who attended three different residential schools in Manitoba over the span of seven years, said the designation will be historic for survivors of the schools and recognition of their pain.

“It is a victory,” she said. “It is a milestone in our journey because everyone is on a journey towards healing. … It is very encouraging that the government is taking this step to acknowledge the residential schools and the system. As a residential school survivor, that gives me hope.”

Recognition of the residential schools by Canada’s indigenous peoples is both painful and refreshing. While indigenous peoples still bear the scars of being taken from their parents and being abused by the operators of the schools, their approach is superior to that of the vandalism of monuments to John A. Macdonald.

Statues of Macdonald are seen as bad memorials, at least seen by groups who have highjacked the healing and reconciliation process. As a promoter of residential school system, you would think would think that Macdonald would be a target of indigenous people. Not so.

Most recently, on August 29, 2020, a  statue of John A. Macdonald was toppled in Montreal. The vandals wanted to defund the police. What does the statue have to with defunding the police? It was simple a convenient target sure to get media attention.

Before that, on July 18, Black Lives Matter protestors poured paint on a Macdonald statue in Toronto. Macdonald, no saint, had nothing to do with discrimination of Black people in Canada.

Senator Sinclair, while still chair of Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman, told The Canadian Press in 2017 that tearing down tributes to historical figures would be “counterproductive” to reconciliation efforts between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

As demonstrators of all stripes target public memorials, Indigenous Canadians show what true reconciliation looks like.

 

 

Tearing down and vandalizing statues is barbaric

Now that we are enlightened, we clearly see the errors of the past. Such is the case with every generation. Regrettably, that enlightenment doesn’t seem to distinguish systemic racism from the value of art from the past.

image by comradejaggi (Instagram) August 29

Statues are works of art. As an artist, and as someone who has studied sculpture at the University of Alberta, I am keenly aware of the hundreds of hours that go into producing a sculpture. Sculptures are particularly difficult to produce because they are made of materials durable enough for future generations to appreciate.

Also, I sit on a committee mandated by the city of Kamloops. We review applications for funding and creating public art. The job involves evaluating the application and allocating meagre funds for artists to make public works.

I’m a strong believer in public art. Art is more than decorative; it inspires and makes a statement about a place. Public art gives testimony to the vitality of a city.

Have you seen Kamloops’ largest piece of public art? It’s truly awesome. Artist Bill Frymire assembled a shimmering mosaic of 80,000 aluminum tiles on a parkade, transforming it from a grey concrete tomb into a mirage that ripples in the sun at the slightest breeze.

I imagine being on a Regina city arts committee in 1966. We’ve received an application for a statue of John A. Macdonald to be built at a park entrance. The plaque is to be placed underneath the sculpture is to read “John A. Macdonald, Father of Confederation.”

I suspect that support for the Macdonald statue would have been unanimous. Because we were not yet woke it’s unlikely we would consider how inappropriate it to be, considering Macdonald’s role in the assimilation of Indigenous people and his racist views of Asian immigrants.

The Macdonald sculpture was built in Regina, in 1967, and cast in bronze using a centuries-old lost wax technique. It has vandalized at least three times since 2012 and is now the only one of Macdonald still standing in a major Western city in Canada.

On July 19, 2020, a group of about 30 people gathered at Ryerson University in Toronto, organized by Black Lives Matter-Toronto, and defaced another Macdonald sculpture with paint. One protester said:

“Defacing the monuments and having the art display done is actually I think a really good way of showing Canada’s long-standing history of violence of both Black and Indigenous communities on these lands.”

I find the equation of violence against people equal to violence against art puzzling. And as an artist, I find the notion of defacing a sculpture in the name of art galling.

In one hundred years, enlightened citizens will reflect on our backward ways. What we now regard as enlightened will then be seen as retrograde.

Perhaps one of our stupid ways, as seen through the lens of future woke generations, will be the way we treat animals raised for slaughter. Will they then vandalize the handsome bronze sculpture of a bull by Joe Fafard that sits at the entrance of Riverside Park in Kamloops?

Our perceived virtues are ephemeral, ever drifting into sin as seen by future generations. Art meant to last millennia should not be a victim latest expression of self-righteous barbarism.

Burn all books about Sir John A.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario doesn’t go far enough when they recommend the removal of former Prime Minister John A. Macdonald’s name from schools because of his role in the “genocide against Indigenous people.”

Image: Maryland Faerie Festival Blog

Macdonald established reserves in order to clear Indigenous people from the land to make way for the railway. He rationed food on reserves that led to malnutrition, disease, and the deaths of thousands.

He should be erased. Statues and monuments should be torn down. His image on our ten dollar bill should be removed. All traces of his memory should be expunged. Why should we honour such a racist?

I searched the TNRD library and found 12 books with offensive titles such as “John A.: the man who made us: the life and times of John A. Macdonald How could a killer shape Canada? And “Sir John’s table: the culinary life and times of Canada’s first prime minister.” Who cares what he ate while starving children?

I “borrowed” a digital copy from the TNRD library of “The destiny of Canada: Macdonald, Laurier, and the election of 1891.” In it I learn that Macdonald appointed Indian agents in the West who used open ballots to track who voted for whom to ensure the re-election of Tories.

As a symbol of our collective disgust of the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people, the books should be burned. What a cathartic feeling that would give to Canadians in relieving our guilt at the treatment of Canada’s first people! A good date for the book-burning would be Guy Fawkes Night on November 5 when we would gather in public squares while bonfires raged. How therapeutic it would be to dance in the light of the flames as our national shame when up in smoke!

Public burnings of ten dollar bills would further expunge our blame, similar to the Chinese tradition of burning “joss notes (unofficial banknotes).” Whereas the Chinese do so as offerings to the deceased, wealthy Canadians and corporations could set examples of our collective outrage by burning large quantities of ten-dollar bills. Such burnings would fortify their images as good citizens.

The hard drives of people who downloaded borrowed digital copies from libraries should be seized (except for mine, of course, which is for the purpose of research only.) The names of those library patrons (except mine) who have borrowed hard and digital copies of books should be reported to the Ministry of Pure Thought.

The complete purge should start with Macdonald and continue with other villains such as Hector-Louis Langevin and Egerton Ryerson, who promoted residential schools; Edward Cornwallis, who placed a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps; Judge Mathew Begbie, who ordered the hanging of chiefs of Tsilhqot’in Nation for defending their land; and Paul de Chomedey, who killed an Iroquois chief with his bare hands.

The cleansing of Canada’s spirit should continue with the re-writing of history. More than just the political leaders of the past are to blame. The majority of Canadians who voted for them are at fault. We cannot let the evil views of Canadians from the past to warp our values today! Those views cast an ominous shadow over Canadians. History should reflect who we are now, not the warped morals of the past.