Sir John A. Macdonald and the Destruction of Historical Statues

·3 min read

What does it take to build a nation? It takes vision, confidence and bringing together everyone in that nation as one for the betterment of that whole nation.

How does a person take a nation such as Canada, back in its early beginning, and make it one nation? There were not only citizens of countries in Europe emigrating, there as well as the original residents of the nation the Indigenous, Inuit and Metis. This was the challenge faced by the first Prime Minister of Canada.

Beginning in the 1870s, both the federal government and Plains Nations wanted to include schooling provisions in treaties, though for different reasons. Indigenous leaders hoped Euro-Canadian schooling would help their young to learn the skills of the newcomer society and help them make a successful transition to a world dominated by strangers. With the passage of the British North America Act in 1867 and the implementation of the Indian Act (1876), the government was required to provide Indigenous youth with an education and to assimilate them into Canadian society. The federal government supported schooling as a way to make First Nations economically self-sufficient. Their underlying objective was to decrease Indigenous dependence on public funds. The government, therefore, collaborated with Christian missionaries to encourage religious conversion and Indigenous economic self-sufficiency. This led to the development of an educational policy after 1880 that relied heavily on custodial schools. These were not the kind of schools Indigenous leaders had hoped to create.

Beginning with the establishment of three industrial schools on the prairies in 1883, and through the next half-century, the federal government and churches developed a system of residential schools that stretched across much of the country. Most of the residential schools were in the four Western provinces and the territories, but there were also significant numbers in northwestern Ontario and in northern Québec. New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island had no schools, apparently because the government assumed that Indigenous people there had been assimilated into Euro-Canadian culture.

At its height around 1930, the residential school system totalled 80 institutions. The Roman Catholic Church operated three-fifths of the schools, the Anglican Church one-quarter and the United and Presbyterian Churches the remainder. (Before 1925, the Methodist Church also operated residential schools; however, when the United Church of Canada was formed in 1925, most of the Presbyterian and all the Methodist schools became United Church schools.) ( Canadian Encyclopedia - Residential Schools in Canada)

Were the ideals of the first prime minister of Canada wrong? Was it wrong of Indigenous Leaders to want to teach their youth the skills of the newcomer to better assimilate into the new country being developed?

The atrocities of the residential schools were definitely wrong. There were the atrocities of many of the boarding schools of the era such as St. Vincents and many other religious residential schools.

We know our early politicians had a role to play in residential schools in Canada. Is it ok to tear down a statue commemorating a public figure who united us as one nation early in our beginning?

Sir. John A Macdonald was the first Prime Minister of Canada, and served 19 years; only William Lyon Mackenzie King served longer. Among his many accomplishments, he acquired territory that made Canada the second-largest country in the world. The National Post reported a quote from 1880 where Macdonald disparaged his forebears for the awful plight of Canada’s first peoples.

“We must remember that they are the original owners of the soil, of which they have been dispossessed by the covetousness or ambition of our ancestors,” Macdonald wrote in a letter proposing the creation of the Department of Indian Affairs.

“At all events, the Indians have been great sufferers by the discovery of America and the transfer to it of a large white population.”

While there are many who hold different beliefs regarding Sir John A. Macdonald, it is important to have discussions regarding the context and events that took place, versus performing destructive acts on historical statues.

Gary Horseman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Four-Town Journal