Hiding history won’t change a thing

The City of Victoria has been discussing the removal of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister, from the front steps of its city hall.

They cite Macdonald’s role as a leader of violence against Indigenous people, because he signed off on the Indian Act while at the helm of our country. And in this era of reconciliation, more stories like this are popping up.

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Now, it’s great to see non-Indigenous people trying to build positive relationships with their Indigenous counterparts, and trying to rectify the wrongs associated with our treatment of Indigenous people in the past.

But will removing a statue of Macdonald and others actually further reconciliation? Will it improve relationships with Indigenous people?

Or is it a case of a case of another government bowing to the whims of the political correctness crowd?

When it comes to reconciliation, there are better ways to achieve this than removing statues or changing the names of schools. How about we try to find ways to actually improve the quality of life of Indigenous people?

There’s another issue, though, with this desire to erase history, because it sets a precedent for the future.

Research some of history’s greatest political leaders. Some of the things they’ve said and done aren’t the most flattering by today’s standards. Should we remove their names from parks, schools and streets? Should we take down their names from schools? Should we stop celebrating their accomplishments?

No, we shouldn’t.

Also, the actions and beliefs that we view as acceptable in 2018 might not be viewed as acceptable 100 years from now. Are we going to see tributes to current and recent great world leaders removed because their attitudes on certain issues, which might be acceptable now, won’t be acceptable in the future?

(And don’t say it won’t happen. We have made great strides on a lot of moral and social issues in the past 100 years. Things that were frowned upon a century ago are now embraced. And a century from now, society will have made considerable changes on a number of other issues).

The things that have been said and done regarding Indigenous people in the past by Macdonald and others are indefensible. We now rail against the Indian Act. Residential schools are justifiably viewed as one of our nation’s greatest embarrassments.

But rather than trying to erase history, and pretending these things didn’t happen, they should be used as teaching points.

Keep the statue. Honour Macdonald’s contributions to Canada before and after July 1, 1867. And make sure that people know that the Indian Act, and some of the opinions expressed by Macdonald about Indigenous people, are no longer acceptable.

After all, even the greatest of leaders will make mistakes.


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