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broken statueCome sit with me on this bench in Charlottetown, beside our first Prime Minister and talk. Here he is, sitting comfortably at one end, legs crossed, his top hat beside him, head turned toward us in expectation of a conversation.

We could ask him about the other fathers of our Confederation. Why they chose to call Canada a ‘dominion.’ Or why he thought a child educated close to his family was “simply a savage who can read and write.”

You couldn’t sit beside Egerton Ryerson in Toronto even if you wanted to. He was high on a pedestal at a university looking down for decades on the people who went to and fro to class or to shop. You would have to look up to ask him why he thought that 10-12 hours a day of hard agricultural work for eight years was just what an Indigenous child needed to achieve “a state of civilization.”

You can’t have a conversation with a statue.

Both are gone now anyway – Sir John A by a vote of Charlottetown’s City Council on June 1st, Egerton 5 days later by the people who pulled him off his pedestal and decapitated him, eager to make him pay for his role in putting 215 children in the ground in unmarked graves.

In the empty space they leave it’s worth asking, what is it we want to remember when we put up a statue? Is it a man’s accomplishments (because most of them are of men)? Are we memorializing a point of view that sees his story as the prime mover for our history? Whose story is being told by our collection of statues? Are they stand-ins (literally, except for Sir John’s) for us, for our story?

You can’t engage them in discussion. You can’t cross-examine them on their role in history. You can’t learn from them that Psalm 72:8 steered Sir Leonard Tilley and the Fathers to their notion of Canada: “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea.”

Still, I can’t help worrying that we’ll forget – that, as time goes by, there will be nothing to remind us of the harm we have done to others. And in our forgetting, we will do the same again.

So I wonder if it might be better if, instead of tearing statues down, we put more up – if we should commission a response to the statues of ‘great men’ … like the little girl who now defiantly confronts the big bull on Wall Street.

That’s a conversation. A statue, alone by itself, is a statement. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reminds us, we are way beyond statements. We need conversations.

Besides, I’d love to know what a smart Indigenous artist would make of the opportunity to confront the legacy of Egerton Ryerson and Sir John A Macdonald.

David McLaren
Neyaashiinigmiing, ON






http://www.trc.ca/assets/pdf/Volume_4_Missing_Children_English_Web.pdf (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report on Missing Children and Unmarked Burials)


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