Some of Canada’s Indigenous people have decided to keep their Residential Schools despite the fact that they hold so many painful memories.One of those is the largest Residential School in Canada on the Kamloops Indian Reserve.
Former Kamloops chief Manny Jules said there have been many debates over the years about the future of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School but band members have decided to keep it as a reminder to future generations that their children will never go through such an experience.
Jules said the federal government offered Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc $70,000 in the 1970s to tear down the school but they declined the offer.
“What we said at the time is we want to turn these buildings into a legacy for language, history and culture, for education and all those other aspects,” said Jules. “Why tear it down?”
Not so for the Okanagan Indian Band in Vernon. They want the federal government to remove three former day schools for Indigenous children that the Chief Byron Louis called “symbols of trauma.”
“A number of our community members won’t even set foot in there unless they absolutely have to,” said Chief Louis. He would like to see the structures replaced with “places of healing.”
The Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in Brantford, Ontario, has restored their Residential School as a “site of conscience.” Now called the Woodland Centre, they plan on guided tours that will take visitors through the building from the perspective of a child, separated from parents, language and culture to arrive in this foreboding place. Different rooms – such as the dining hall and the dormitories – will be restored to different periods in the long history of what was the first residential school in Canada.
While the preservation of colonial schools is debatable, the preservation of colonial monuments is not.
The recent discovery of 215 unmarked graves of Indigenous children by the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc has sparked a debate about what to do with one of the remaining statues of Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, in Kingston, Ontario. That’s where Macdonald grew up, practised law and served as a Member of Parliament.
Both monuments, architectural and artistic, evoke a painful chapter in the lives of Indigenous people. Both represent Canada’s colonial past.
The difference is that schools are built on Indian Reserves where Indigenous people have control of them. For those Indigenous people who support the schools, they are not monuments to colonialism but living monuments to the resilience of the survivors.
Statues of Macdonald are located in non-Indigenous locations and open to attack by groups with agendas other than the legacy of colonialism. 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.”
For non-Indigenous Canadians, monuments to Macdonald are a painful reminder of the way we treated Indigenous people. It’s best that they are stored away out of sight, out of mind.