Hamilton votes against removing Sir John A. Macdonald statue: We can do better.

 

On Friday, July 9, the City of Hamilton Council voted 12 to 3 against removing the Sir John A. Macdonald statue, placing it in storage pending review, from downtown’s Gore Park.

This vote was an opportunity for Hamilton to put action behind its commitment in reconciliation with our Indigenous community, to respond to their requests to have an ongoing public reminder of the pain and suffering of the horrific residential school legacy removed.

Council opens its meetings with a land acknowledgement and publishes the following on its website.

“The City of Hamilton is situated upon the traditional territories of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas.  This land is covered by the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant, which was an agreement between the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabek to share and care for the resources around the Great Lakes. We further acknowledge that this land is covered by the Between the Lakes Purchase, 1792, between the Crown and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.”

You’ll also find the following on the City’s website:

“The City has developed an Urban Indigenous Strategy that will strengthen the City’s relationship with the Indigenous community. The strategy will help promote a better understanding among all residents about Indigenous histories, cultures, experiences and contributions.

“Residential School Findings: Every Child Matters

[The bolding and enlargement of this line and the orange highlighting is as per the City’s website]

“The horrific discovery of unmarked graves at Marieval Indian Residential School and Kamloops Residential School are reminders of the shameful legacy of residential schools and the resulting trauma that the Indigenous communities continue to experience.

“On June 28, flags at all City of Hamilton sites were lowered to half-mast in memory of the Indigenous children whose remains have been found in unmarked graves in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. The flags will remain lowered indefinitely. Further, the Hamilton Sign will be lit up in orange on July 1 to pay respect to Indigenous children, families and survivors of the residential school system.”

It’s alarming that Hamilton would post such statements on its website yet turn away from an opportunity to show support for its Indigenous community. What we read on the website apparently reflects our city’s desire to be part of a movement of communities that want to acknowledge the “reminders of the shameful legacy of residential schools and the resulting trauma that the Indigenous communities continue to experience.”

I chose to requote this section because it’s clear the City is very much aware of the trauma our Indigenous community continue to experience.

Yet, they chose to ignore the trauma by voting against the removal a public reminder of this trauma, before a full review is completed. Surely, they could have made an empathetic act of kindness to our grieving Indigenous community by putting the statue in storage pending the review.

Where’s the compassion?

Where’s the act of reconciliation and healing?

I’m grateful there were two councillors, Maureen Wilson from Ward 1 and Nrinder Nann from Ward 2, who spoke strongly in favour of the immediate removal of the statue, and for Councillor Brad Clark’s vote in favour. They give us hope.

As stated, the motion being voted on was storage pending the City’s review. It wasn’t a permanent removal. It was a desire to provide a timely compassionate response to the cries from our traumatized Indigenous community who, because of the recent horrific discoveries of unmarked graves, is in the midst of pain and suffering.

Our councillors had an opportunity to step up in the spirit of reconciliation to show our Indigenous community Hamilton cares.

Instead, 12 representatives of our city did the opposite.

They argued that the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald’s statue was divisive, that it will endorse vandalism against statues, that it’s a slippery slope that might lead to the removal of other statues such as Laurier and Queen Victoria, that we should wait for the full review to be completed before the removal of the statue.

There’s no denying the actions of Sir John A. Macdonald and the tragic legacy of residential schools are steeped in white supremacy and racism.

There’s also no denying we cannot dismantle systemic white supremacy and racism without taking action. We are not responsible for the horrors of residential schools, but we are responsible for dismantling the white supremacy that caused it, and for walking in a spirit of compassion aligned with truth and reconciliation.

As a white person I cannot deny the privileges I have because I’m white and non-Indigenous.

But I can choose to be part of a movement that wants to dismantle systemic white supremacy that causes racism. I can choose to walk on a path of truth and reconciliation with Indigenous people.

We do not have to let this vote define our city.

We can do better. I urge my fellow Hamiltonians to move forward with a spirit of truth, compassion, and justice.

Let’s make those the priority, not worrying about divisiveness.

 

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