The following letter to the editor was submitted by GuelphToday reader Paul Smith:
The elementary teachers’ union idea of expunging John A. Macdonald’s name may seem like a wacky, radical proposal to many people. But let’s think about the idea behind it.
John A. Macdonald was a racist and laid the groundwork for many oppressive policies affecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Starving First Nations so they would sign treaties and move to reserves selected by the government. He bragged about it. Thousands died. Cheating the Métis out of their land in Manitoba (confirmed by the Supreme Court in 2015). Starting the Indian residential “schools” to “kill the Indian” in native children. The historical documentation is voluminous.
This is not an abstract idea. John A. Macdonald deeply affected my Métis family. We were pushed out of Manitoba after the failure of the deal negotiated with John A by Louis Riel. That deal, enshrined in the Canadian Constitution, was never honoured and Métis were cheated out of our own homeland. Yet we are still proud Canadians now and many fought in wars for Canada.
In 1885, Macdonald sent in the military to repress the Métis again. And eventually to kill, imprison or exile our leaders. Our family fled Saskatchewan to North Dakota to escape the repression after the 1885 resistance. My grandfather spent his early years in North Dakota before finally returning to Manitoba after things cooled down.
Yet John A is memorialized across the country. And at the same time, the history of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada has been erased or suppressed.
Why not rename just some of the schools, streets and buildings named after John A for important First Nations, Inuit and Métis people? Just to equalize things a bit. Big Bear (Mistahi-maskwa), Poundmaker (Pîhtokahanapiwiyin), Peter Jones (Kahkewāquonāby), Gabriel Dumont, Cuthbert Grant, there are lots of worthy candidates. Never heard of any of them? That is the point.
Thanks to the elementary teachers for putting the idea forward, albeit in a seemingly wacky, radical proposal. Naming places after historical figures should improve our understanding, not to mindlessly laud long-dead flawed leaders and demagogues. This is a conversation worth having.