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Tearing down colonial statues is making history, not erasing it

Photo: Getty Images

With yet another discovery of 182 more unmarked graves on the grounds of a former residential school near Cranbrook, BC, the conversation around Canada’s colonial past exploded on social media and the general public. 

It is virtually impossible to scroll through any social media feed these days without coming across various posts showing solidarity with First Nations people – and that is a good thing. Even on my trip to the local grocery store on Canada Day, orange shirts were a common sight. Hopefully, everything that has been brought to light in the past few weeks will signal some type of meaningful shift toward reconciliation

Maybe the Canadian government will even lift a finger. Maybe Trudeau will stop fighting Indigenous kids in court. Maybe…

Monuments of a colonial past

The common saying is that when the USA sneezes, Canada catches a cold. The explosive growth of the Black Lives Matter movement has undoubtedly influenced Canadian politics over the past few years. Racial issues and Canada’s genocidal history have pretty much become dinner table conversations in many homes.

While confederate statues get bashed down in the south, Canada’s own architects of genocide and apartheid have also come to a crumbling demise. Statues of John A MacDonald and Egerton Ryerson have been defaced and torn down across Canada.

My opinion on this is very clear: this is a good thing.

For most of us white Canadians, we have been walking past these statues without so much as a second thought. “John A MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister,” we would think to ourselves. For Indigenous people within Canadian borders, the story is radically different. 

Their ancestors were the target of explicit genocide; I would argue that this is still an ongoing genocide as evidenced by the MMWIG inquiry and foster care system. Currently, blood quantum laws restrict the right of Indigenous People to define themselves. Not to mention the Indian Act still mentions “Indians, and Lands reserved for the Indians” as the exclusive property of the Government.

Yes, property. This is an apartheid system. There is just no justification for these statues if Indigenous people don’t want them. And many, such as the Epekwitk Mi’kmaq Chiefs and leaders of the Esquimalt Nation don’t.

A Symbolic step forward

Still, even after this, the standard conservative reaction is that removing these statues from public spaces is erasing history. As if we were taking a Mr. Clean magic eraser and simply scrubbing the past. As if these protesters were burning books and libraries. I mean, how else would we know what happened in the past without these statues? 

It’s just a non-sensical, knee-jerk reaction, without any thought ever considered before they hit the share button.

It’s kind of funny too because in many other historical situations, both those on the left and the right view the toppling of various statues of oppressive regimes as making history, not erasing it. Despite cries of “erasing history,” this is what is happening: history is being made.

Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth Statues toppled

One of my first political memories was the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This was widely seen by the world as a symbolic victory over an extremely repressive regime.

The revolutionary Paris Communes in 1871 were a significant influence on Marxist thought. This loose coalition of trade unions, worker’s organizations, proto-political parties, and emigrant associations attempted to overthrow an emerging capitalist elite class and institute a form of worker’s democracy. During this revolutionary time, the Communards toppled the statue of Napoléon I as a symbol of democratic victory. 

Surely, after the centuries-long history of genocide and apartheid of the Crown toward all Indigenous people in their way, removing a few statues is the very least we can do as a society. More than that – it’s a necessary step along the way towards reconciliation. 

In the place of these old, colonial statues, why not erect historically relevant Indigenous leaders?

One response to “Tearing down colonial statues is making history, not erasing it”

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