When a school is named after a person, that honour, ideally, should not include a major disclaimer or sidenote.
But when it comes to schools named for Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, that sidenote ends up being several pages long, detailing a legacy of residential schools, racism, colonialism and genocide.
Last week, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) adopted a resolution to urge school boards across the province to consider removing Macdonald's name from public schools. Of course, the announcement sparked huge debate on both sides.
Many Canadians are quite outraged at this proposed idea and even suggest that their history is being erased. The irony here is that if anything has been erased, it's the dark legacy of people like John A. Macdonald and the policies of genocide they helped create, which have been essentially ignored by Canada's education system.
This history has barely been included in public school curriculum, simple as that. And it's only been in the last couple of years that our governments have taken notice, promising to start integrating lessons about residential schools into primary and secondary-level education.
That pledge was prompted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published 94 calls to action back in 2015. The ETFO is urging another very necessary step toward reconciliation in requesting the name of one of the founding fathers of the residential school system be stripped from Ontario schools.
- Spend time honouring Indigenous heroes rather than debating Macdonald: Murray Sinclair
Indigenous children in Canada shouldn't have to walk into schools bearing the name of the man who created the policies of genocide meant to clear the land of their ancestors for the newly arriving settlers. They shouldn't have to see his name on every school letterhead, report card and bulletin board — not when his legacy continues to have a devastating ripple effect in our communities.
Right now in Canada, there are children who will be starting school very soon whose parents are the first generation of children in their communities to not be removed from their families and placed in a Canadian residential school. There are elders in those same communities who can tell those children stories of the pass system created by Sir John A. Macdonald, because they have living memories of that time that Canadians are now calling "history." In them, and their children, the legacy lives on.
No one is trying to erase Canadian history — many people are still grappling with the truths of our collective history that has been ignored for generations. That's why this resolution is important: it is a leap toward reconciliation.
It is not Indigenous people who need to reconcile with our shared history. That is the work other Canadians need to begin doing, which is exactly what this resolution offers: a chance to unpack the systems that have oppressed Indigenous people longer than Canada has been a country.
We like to think that Canada was founded on principles of inclusivity, diversity and that it is welcoming to all. That is simply not true. Coming to terms with that means actually acknowledging our past, which means reading and grappling with those uncomfortable disclaimers that should accompany any tributes to our "founding fathers." We need to include them in our classrooms' history books, since they won't fit on the placards outside, bearing the schools' name.
To read a counterpoint, click here.