Remove the John A. Macdonald Monument "Holding Court" from Main Street Picton, Ontario
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We call upon Prince Edward County Mayor, Steve Ferguson, as well as the Prince Edward County Council, to remove the statue of John A. Macdonald from outside of the library in Picton, Ontario, and place it in storage immediately.
In an interview with the Picton Gazette, Dr. Niigaan Sinclair commented on the statue:
“Our children watch us and look to see who we hold up. ... and, if we hold up someone who perpetrated genocide…our children will act a certain way and we shouldn’t be surprised. Or, maybe our children will reject us and then we’ve created a conflict with our children.”
“Violence is violence is violence.”
Macdonald was the primary perpetrator of genocide in Canada. He created the Residential School System and the North West Mounted Police, and used these institutions to enact genocide. He legislated racism in Canada. His statue makes people feel unsafe and uncomfortable. It also brings feelings of great horror, sadness and shame. It is embarrassing to see Macdonald, and the colonial violence that he has come to symbolize, honoured in bronze on Main Street; especially at the front door of a library, which is a public institution and a community hub.
Macdonald was proudly racist and openly referred to Canada as an Aryan nation. He was the only parliamentarian to ever do so. His racism was not limited to Indigenous people. He was also responsible for the Chinese Head Tax and the Electoral Franchise Act, which ended voting rights for all Chinese immigrants. His father-in-law, Thomas James Bernard, lived in Jamaica on a sugar plantation and owned 96 slaves. Macdonald himself supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War, and in fact was retained as a lawyer for a Southern vigilante group supporting slavery. He later named Canada a “Confederation”.
As a country, we have spent over 150 years glorifying Macdonald, and this is especially true in Prince Edward County. The County's ties to him are both historical and personal. If the statue is going to be shared again publicly, the work of transparent, inclusive and accessible consultation with the community, most importantly the Indigenous community and especially the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, must be done first. I was concerned that Ruth Abernathy might be offended by this petition to remove her art from the Main Street in Picton; when I reached out to her, she assured me that she was not personally offended and that Macdonald must stand on his own merits.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission presented their final report six months after the statue went up in Picton. This report caused us as a community to see John Macdonald in a vastly different way; no longer could we frame him as a “complicated” Father of Confederation, or a “man of his time”. The TRC informed us that the Residential School System was a "cultural genocide", a term which Canadians struggled to understand. Macdonald created this system. For all Canadians the Residential School System remains a festering wound of shame. The passive violence of non-Indigenous citizens allowed this system to run for over a hundred years. The damage inflicted to the individual, the family, the community and the cultures of Indigenous people through the Residential School System continues in Canada today.
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was released in June, 2019. This report looked deeply into the systemic violence that Indigenous women and girls face in Canada. This report was clear to define this violence in a term we could all understand: genocide. In light of this report, it is hard not to see the statue of Macdonald as a symbol of colonial violence. He created the Residential School System . He created the Mounties to assist in his colonial nightmare. He used the Indian Act to attack the people it was originally meant to protect. This framework all persists.
As a Loyalist community, we must come to terms with our colonial past if we are ever to dream of becoming a safe and inclusive community. We may no longer be a “proud” Loyalist town; but we will still be a Loyalist town. The truth is you can't erase history. Moving a statue to create safe community spaces, erases nothing; but it shows respect for the survivors of genocide and systemic racism. It signals to Black, Indigenous People of Colour that our community is listening to their experiences.
Commissioner Qajaq Robinson of the MMIWG National Inquiry wrote in the preface of the report:
"So what are we non-Indigenous Canadians to do now? We must acknowledge our role and we must become actors in the rebuilding of this nation. We must acknowledge that the crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls has been centuries in the making, and its root cause is colonialism, which runs deep throughout the foundational fabric of this country. We are here now because of years and years of decisions and actions that built Canada, all while robbing Indigenous Peoples, and especially women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA peoples, of their humanity, dignity and ultimately their lives. It is genocide.
We must be active participants in decolonizing Canada. We must challenge all institutions, governments and agencies to consciously and critically challenge the ideologies that govern them. We must critically examine our systems of laws and governance to identify how they exclude and oppress Indigenous Peoples."
If the term “decolinize Canada” makes you feel uncomfortable, you should take some time to read this report; then look at some of the biggest social movements of the last ten years: Idle No More, Occupy Wall Street, Standing Rock, Me Too, Black Lives Matter. They are all grassroots movements calling out for an end to colonial violence. Consider how many activists have been calling for decolonization of our institutions. Think of the people in our country who are fighting to be seen, who are asking for their history to be known, for their experience of colonialism to be a part of our national experience of colonialism.
“Holding Court” shows a young Macdonald defending himself for drunken violence. He was successful in doing so, winning the case. However, in light of the TRC Report and the MMIWG Report, Macdonald has been proven to be the primary agent of genocide, and we as a community are no longer willing to defend him.
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