A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in Victoria, B.C., Tuesday, January 31, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Chad Hipolito) VICTORIA — A statue of former prime minister John A. Macdonald will be removed from the front entrance of Victoria City Hall as a gesture of reconciliation with First Nations, says the city’s Mayor Lisa Helps.
Macdonald was the first prime minister of Canada and Helps said he was also a "key architect" of the residential school system.
The decision, which must be approved by council, followed a year of deliberations and consultation with the local Songhees and Esquimalt chiefs and councils, she said in a post on her campaign website.
"We will remove the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the front doors of city hall so that the family members and other Indigenous people do not need to walk past this painful reminder of colonial violence each time they enter the doors of their municipal government," Helps said.
In the post, she attributes the following statement to Macdonald:
"When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian."
"It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men."
Although Helps has an undergraduate, master’s and partially completed PhD in Canadian history, she said she is ashamed that she was unaware of the Father of Confederation’s role in developing residential schools.
Helps said the city does not propose erasing history, but rather taking time to tell that chapter of Canadian history in a thoughtful way.
The statue will be removed Saturday and stored until an appropriate way to "recontextualize" Macdonald is determined, she said.
A cleansing, blessing and healing ceremony will be held in the space after the statue is removed. In the longer term, a piece of art representative of the Lekwungen culture, which includes both the Songhees and Esquimalt nations, will likely go in its place, the post said.
The decision to remove the statue is the first concrete action by the so-called City Family, made up of the mayor, two councillors, and Indigenous representatives, as part of city’s reconciliation program.
Council will receive the City Family’s report Thursday recommending the statue removal, and Helps said in an interview that she can’t imagine it will be rejected since council gave the group a mandate to pursue reconciliation action when it formed last year.
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