Two Indigenous educators say the conversation around removing the name of a downtown Edmonton neighbourhood due to its namesake's dark history could serve as an educational tool, regardless of whether the name is changed.
A rally in protest of the white supremacist events in Charlottesville earlier this month will take place at the Alberta legislature Saturday, and will also partly focus on Frank Oliver, a 1900s-era Edmonton MP who was instrumental in forcing Indigenous people off their traditional lands.
Calvin Bruneau, the chief of the Papaschase First Nation, said the City of Edmonton should drop the name from the neighbourhood, as well as remove a plaque in the courtyard of the Hotel Macdonald dedicated to Oliver.
The City of Edmonton said it will be having conversations about the removal of the name, which it calls a "complex" issue.
Conor Kerr, a Papaschase descendant, will speak at the event Saturday. He works as a First Nations, Métis and Inuit consultant for Edmonton Public Schools, but at the rally he will be not be speaking on behalf of the organization.
Kerr said he believes the City of Edmonton should drop the Oliver name. His grandmother told him stories of her grandmother, who was kicked off her traditional land in the late 1800s, and how when she returned in the 1950s, nothing was the same.
"Imagine that view from her eyes of what this place looked like ... when she left in the 1880s as a 12-year-old girl, and then coming back as an older lady and seeing what's become of your homeland," Kerr said.
"There's nothing left to even remotely mark where the Papaschase people lived before that."
He said if the city is willing to have those discussions, it should examine other historical figures honoured around the city, including Sir John A. Macdonald.
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"I don't know where the line is," Kerr said Thursday, explaining he's not sure which historical figures' names should be honoured and which should be abandoned.
Oliver not only one to blame: professor
Dwayne Donald, an education professor at the University of Alberta and a Papaschase descendant, said Frank Oliver isn't the only one to blame for the atrocities against Indigenous people in the 1900s.
Oliver may have been the face of pushing Edmonton-area Indigenous people off their traditional lands, but he was one of many such democratically elected officials, he said.
"While it was Frank Oliver who carried out a legislative attack on my Papaschase Cree ancestors, it was the citizens of Edmonton who stood by and watched them suffer and starve," Donald said in an email.
"We cannot overlook this painful legacy."
Kerr said regardless of the result of these discussions, the conversations themselves have been beneficial to all parties.
"I'm interested in the prominence of these topics and these conversations coming out because it's bringing up more awareness around the history of Indigenous people in Canada," he said.
"It's a great opportunity to help educate people and to start bringing about some of those recommendations that were talked about in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
He said that also applies to many other conversations being had about Indigenous peoples and their history.
"There are lots of steps being taken to put Indigenous history and culture into a conversation that hasn't been had in generations," he said.