Hamilton's mayor says he is "absolutely supportive" of seeing the John A. Macdonald statue re-erected in the city, with a sign or plaque that highlights Macdonald's success as Canada's first prime minister and his role as an architect of the residential school system.
The statue was in Hamilton's Gore Park until hundreds of demonstrators marched through downtown and pulled it down last summer. It remains in storage, the city confirmed earlier this month.
"He is our first prime minister — that has value ... he was also very involved in the residential school piece, and it's important for us to look at these things as educational opportunities rather than trying to wipe them out," Mayor Fred Eisenberger told reporters on Friday at city hall.
He said it'll "be a while" before city councillors consider putting it back up and, if they decide to, where.
Eisenberger also said he doesn't believe there's much support for removing all statues of Macdonald.
He made the remarks minutes after speaking alongside local community leaders and anti-hate groups about the need for tougher laws to ban hate symbols on private property. That came after a Confederate flag sighting in the Binbrook area of Hamilton.
Next Thursday, there's an emergency and community services committee meeting where city staff will present a review of landmarks and monuments.
The meeting will also include a report from First Peoples Group, an Indigenous advisory firm based in Ottawa. The report recommends that the Macdonald statue not be re-erected.
"Reinstallation of the statue now would be a step in the wrong direction. Clearing the site (placing all remaining components in storage indefinitely) would allow for future community engagement to happen in a good way," reads the report.
Macdonald's ties to residential schools
Macdonald's legacy has been scrutinized for his role in the residential school system. Thousands forced to attend the schools died there and many suffered abuse, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission heard testimony of the effects that over 100 years of mistreatment had on 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children.
Canada has been reckoning with this history as potential burial sites are increasingly being found on the grounds of former residential schools.
The search for potential human remains at the former Mohawk Institute Residential School in Brantford, Ont., not far from Hamilton is ongoing.
Mayor accused of not listening to constituents
Nathan Muir, an Indigenous youth adviser with the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board, told CBC Hamilton he is "disappointed in the mayor and his reckless desire to ensure that colonial systems remain in power."
"As a politician, one needs to listen to their constituents, and clearly Mayor Eisenberger does not listen to his constituents. By wanting this, he continues to ensure that Indigenous people in Hamilton will be oppressed and traumatized."
Jordan Carrier, a Plains Cree woman who witnessed the statue coming down last year, said her "blood is boiling just thinking of the audacity" of the mayor for speaking publicly at an anti-hate event, and then "moments later continue to harm Indigenous citizens," she said.
"The people of Hamilton, the Indigenous community of Hamilton, and the lands that Hamilton sits on deserve far better than this."
Kojo Damptey, executive direct of the Hamilton Centre For Civic Inclusion, was among community leaders standing alongside the mayor at city hall on Friday, calling for tougher hate symbol legislation.
Damptey told CBC Hamilton that Eisenberger's comments about the statue are "beyond comprehension" given Hamilton's record of having the country's highest per-capita rate of hate crimes in 2019, 2018, 2016 and 2014.
"One minute you are saying we shouldn't stand for hate and then the next minute you are saying we should be putting up statues of people that have literally said in the House of Commons Indigenous people are uncivilized," Damptey said.
"How then can we go tell somebody in Binbrook a Confederate flag should come down? ... The argument is also going to be, 'Well let's not erase history — let's put a plaque beside it.'"