POLITICS

Liberal Government Must Face 'True History' Of Canada's Key Figures: Indigenous Activists

A bigger conversation needs to unfold nationally, an NDP MP said.

08/25/2017 17:07 EDT | Updated 08/26/2017 08:55 EDT
The Canadian Press
A statue of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, in Kingston, Ont. on Oct. 7, 2016.

OTTAWA — The federal government is facing increased pressure from Indigenous advocates to confront how historical figures are celebrated in Canada following the passage of a motion by an Ontario teachers' union calling for the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald's name from elementary schools in the province.

A bigger conversation needs to unfold nationally about the role of historic figures in the "dark realities of colonialism", NDP MP and Indigenous affairs critic Romeo Saganash said Friday, adding it is the responsibility of Ottawa to begin this dialogue "in the spirit of reconciliation" with Indigenous Peoples.

"I also think there should be a priority placed on education regarding historic figures from the Indigenous community, which should include putting their names on important buildings," he said in a statement.

Saganash, a residential school survivor, supported Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to remove the name of Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of Confederation, from the Ottawa building that houses the Prime Minister's Office.

Trudeau made the announcement in June after Indigenous MPs and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde called for the change because Langevin was an architect of the residential school system.

We are not revising history, it is about being honest about our true history.

"We've heard from you and the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) and from many indigenous communities over the past year that there is a deep pain in knowing that ... building carries a name so closely associated with the horror of residential schools," Trudeau said at the time.

Bellegarde said he is personally encouraged Canadians are finally speaking about the harsh truths of the country's past, including about how prominent leaders like Macdonald did not always have respectful relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

The federal government helped to facilitate this process by renaming the Langevin Block near Parliament Hill, he added, noting he also commends the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario for its motion.

"We are not revising history, it is about being honest about our true history," he said in an interview. "You can look at the history of Canada in a more comprehensive way and have the truth be taught."

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, however, does not have the same assessment of the union's motion.

Toronto Star via Getty Images
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is pictured speaking to her Liberal caucus at Queen's Park.

In a statement, she said it "missed the mark", noting Macdonald contributed greatly to the creation of a stable federal government for Canada as a founding father of Confederation and as the country's first prime minister.

Metis National Council President Clement Chartier said Friday he is neutral on the motion, adding he believes there are far more important issues to address, including the exclusion of Metis residential schools from the residential school settlement agreement.

"We can't undo history," he said. "Macdonald was a father of Confederation. He did have a role to play. While it may have negatively impacted the Metis Nation, I'm sure it did some good for other Canadians. There has to be a balance to it as well."

A spokesperson for Heritage Minister Melanie Joly said the federal government will engage with Indigenous groups on how to correct historical wrongs, adding it must "seize this opportunity" to acknowledge Canada's past was far from perfect.

"All levels of government have a responsibility to promote dialogue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to continue towards the path of reconciliation," press secretary Pierre-Olivier Herbert said in a statement.

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