Not all attendees of this weekend’s bicentenary celebrations of Sir John A. Macdonald were celebrating.
Instead, some pointed out Macdonald’s legacy of racist policies that oppressed and killed thousands of indigenous people.
At City Hall on Sunday, as Mayor Bryan Paterson welcomed citizens to the City’s birthday celebrations, a crowd of roughly 40 stood across the street in peaceful protest of the celebration.
“We made a strong and honourable statement of discontent and remembrance of those who passed,” said Beth Newell, protest organizer for indigenous peoples advocacy group Idle No More.
The group sang Cree mourning songs as they held signs that read “RIP victims of John A’s dream”.
Newell compared celebrations of Sir John A. to the controversial celebrations of Christopher Columbus, historically known as the explorer and colonial pioneer who “discovered” the U.S., but also known for the murder and accused genocide of large numbers of Native Americans.
She also compared the celebration of Macdonald to celebration of Adolf Hitler.
“It’s no different than if someone had a celebration for Hitler,” she said.
“He enacted policies of genocide — so did John A.”
Newell said student support comes and goes in numbers but the Idle No more group in general isn’t as strong as they would like it to be, due to Kingston being a “fairly conservative” town.
Newell’s message was loud and clear as she called for the decolonization of oppressive traditions and political systems.
“We need to respect that this is the history of this land but not in a celebratory way, but in a way where we understand that this is a horrible part of our history,” she said.
“We must decolonize — otherwise the only history you have is one to be ashamed of, and not one to celebrate.”
The gathering outside City Hall wasn’t the day’s only protest. Earlier in the morning, David Garneau, head of the visual arts department at the University of Regina, performed a piece called “Dear John: Louis Riel” as the first part of a series of live performances called “Talking Back to Johnny Mac”.
The series was planned by Erin Sutherland, MA ’12, a PhD candidate looking to focus on Macdonald’s role in and impact on Indigenous-settler relationships.
In the piece, Garneau plays Louis Riel, the political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies, as he attempts to speak to the statue of Macdonald.
“It’s more open,” Garneau said of his choice to use performance art to convey his message, as opposed to other visual mediums.
Garneau was also featured in an open discussion held at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre as part of the performance series.
The performance began with “greetings and thanks” to the natural world by Janice Hill, director of Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre.
Hill said the statue of Sir John A. is on what was formerly Mohawk territory, and the civil courthouse would have been the center of the Mohawk village.
“People don’t know this history enough,” she said.
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