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Indigenous scholar Daniel Heath Justice says the new Angus Reid poll claiming a majority of Canadians are tired of apologizing for residential schools is reductive and ignores complexity of truth and reconciliation issues

A week after Victoria mayor Lisa Helps apologized for the way she handled the removal of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front of Victoria’s city hall, Angus Reid has released a poll suggesting the “vast majority” of Canadians support keeping John A. Macdonald’s image in public view.

The poll showed that 55 per cent of Canadians were opposed to the removal of the John A. Macdonald statue, 37 per cent said it should be restored to its original spot, 13 per cent said it should be displayed elsewhere publicly, and 44 per cent said it should be placed in a museum.

Daniel Heath Justice, the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture, said the results of this survey didn’t surprise him.

“These are reductive, emotion-focused questions that are pre-disposed toward a particular kind of answer that don’t take up the complexity of the issues,” he said.

Statues are always symbolic, said Justice, and they can become a flashpoint during times of political and social reflection.

“These conversations are very important for us to have, but they become very reductive very quickly and that, for me, is the worrisome and frustrating thing

“In our moment of conversation around the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian state, symbols like John A. Macdonald are going to be much more significant to people on all sides of the conversation.”

Survey respondents were also asked to choose between two statements about the legacy of residential schools, and 57 per cent of Canadians chose “Canada spends too much time apologizing for residential schools — it’s time to move on,” over “The harm from residential schools continues and cannot be ignored,” (31 per cent).

Framing the issue around whether Canada spends too much time apologizing for residential schools, Justice said, misses the point. “It presumes that apology is the point, rather than making amends.”

Truth and reconciliation isn’t about apologizing, said Justice, it’s about acknowledging “our history, our relationship with each other and a restoration of Indigenous communities’ health and well-being.”

The survey also reported that 51 per cent of the country supports a statutory holiday commemorating the legacy of residential schools or a “day of remembrance” that is not a statutory holiday (53 per cent).

Justice said that it’s important to remember that the conversation is not about erasing the memory of John A. Macdonald, but “contextualizing it.”

“The legacies weigh differently on different people. There is a lot of horror attached to John A. Macdonald for Indigenous people that are not attached to Anglo-Canadian settler society,” he said.

In an email, Shachi Kurl, executive director of Angus Reid, said the survey sample was “balanced to census data, so the percentage of Indigenous respondents in the sample would have reflected the Indigenous percentage of Canadian population,” or about five per cent of the respondents.

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