A Mohawk teacher is continuing to speak out about a plaque in Old Montreal that commemorates the founder of Montreal killing an Iroquois chief “with his own hands.”
High school history teacher Michael Rice says the plaque is derogatory and inaccurate. But he doesn’t want the plaque removed — he just wants the Indigenous viewpoint added.
The plaque is on the side of a building used by the Bank of Montreal, near Place d’Armes. Rice, who grew up in Kahnawake territory, says he first complained about the plaque in 1992 when Montreal was turning 350. History teacher Michael Rice speaks to CTV Montreal in March 2018. A plaque is seen on the Bank of Montreal building in Montreal, on August 3, 2017. (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS) He says he walked into the bank and spoke with a manager about the plaque being in “poor taste.” The manager promised to bring it up with his superiors.
But as the city celebrated 375 years since its founding last summer, the plaque remained unaddressed.
It reads: “Near this square afterwards named La Place d’Armes the founders of Ville-Marie first encountered the Iroquois whom they defeated. Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve killing the chief with his own hands. March 1644.”
“What they did was they took the information from the only witness who was there … which was Paul de Chomedey,” Rice says.
“They took it from his own journal and they wrote it up and there’s nothing from the Aboriginal viewpoint,” he says.
Rice says the main problem is that the plaque fails to portray the reality that the Iroquois were defending their territory from the French. That matters, he says, because the territory remains unceded.
According to a bibliography of the city founder, the Iroquois ambushed the French in 1643 and took six prisoners, only one of whom escaped. That prompted the 30 Frenchmen to turn their weapons on a “perceived 200 Iroquois” the following year, according to the article by Marie-Claire Devaeluy.
After running out of bullets, the French “bolted,” leaving de Maisonneuve “alone and far in their rear,” after which “one of the Iroquois chiefs quickly overtook him,” according to Devauluy.
“M. de Maisonneuve fired at him immediately. Then promptly, while the Iroquois was clawing at his throat, he discharged his second pistol,” she wrote.
The bank said last summer that they would remove the plaque, but Rice reiterates that he doesn’t want to see it removed. He says there’s space underneath for another plaque that “gives some balance, gives some context.”
He wants it made clear that the land is “contested territory.”
After all, the root cause of problems for Indigenous people is land,” he says.
“We can have all the talk we want about reconciliation but if there’s no returning of land, it’s just nice words,” according to Rice. “Let’s try to fix small things, starting with this plaque.”
A Bank of Montreal spokesperson said that they are taking steps “to erase that sentence,” and if Rice wants a plaque added to the heritage-designated building, he needs to take that up with to the Quebec government. With a report from CTV Montreal
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