Sir John A. Macdonald's birthday protested by aboriginal rights advocates

Aboriginal-rights advocates staged a protest in front of Sir John A. Macdonald's statue in downtown Hamilton on Sunday, detouring a local historic society's celebration for the bicentennial birthday of Canada's first prime minister.

Local society skips wreath-laying ceremony at politician's statue at Gore Park

About a dozen aboriginal rights advocates staged a protest in front of Sir John A. Macdonald's statue in Hamilton on Sunday, the politician's 200th birthday. (Sunnie Huang/CBC)

About a dozen aboriginal-rights advocates staged a protest in front of Sir John A. Macdonald's statue in downtown Hamilton on Sunday, detouring a local society's celebration for the bicentennial birthday of Canada's first prime minister.

The protesters converged at Gore Park around 1 p.m., just before the annual wreath-laying ceremony organized by the Sir John A. Macdonald Society was slated to begin. 

Holding signs that read "Native Lives Matter" and "Natives fed you, saved you. Canada starved natives & murder," the protest drew honks from drivers on the adjacent King Street. Some pedestrians also stopped to take photos and chat with the protesters. 

Kaweowene of Six Nations said he came to protest what he sees as the starvation of aboriginal people and the mistreatment of Asians while the politician was in power.

He said he also hopes the protest will raise awareness for missing and murdered aboriginal women.

"A lot of the women that were starved became ill, and then they died," he said. "Technically that's murder. So this guy is a murderer. I don't think people should celebrate murders and genocides like that."

Kristen Villebrun, another protester, said the group originally planned to hold the protest at Dundurn Castle, but decided to meet at the statue because of its central location in downtown Hamilton and its exposure to traffic. 

"We know the true history, so it's time to let the people of Hamilton know what it really stands for," she said. 

Local society seeks compromise

The protesters said they want the statue to come down. 

"It represents genocide. We'd like it to come down," Villebrun said. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper takes part in a ceremony to mark the bicentennial of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald's birth date, in Kingston, Ontario, Sunday, January 11, 2015. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Hamilton's Sir John A. Macdonald Society, which has been organizing the politician's birthday celebrations for 50 years, skipped its usual wreath-laying ceremony at the statue. The group went straight to a pub a few blocks away for the second part of the commemorative event, where members made remarks and shared cakes and drinks. 

Robin McKee, local historian and president of the society, said the society tried to find compromise, because "it's exactly what Macdonald would have done."

"[The protesters] can have theirs. We can have ours. It wasn't territorial," he said. "They have the right."

McKee said he is not aware of the protesters' demand for the statue to come down. 

"Why would you put a statue up and then take it down?" he said. 

Bicentenary of Macdonald's birth 

The protesters left Gore Park some time before 3 p.m., while the celebration continued at the pub. The only remaining sign of the protest was a poster, taped to the base of the statue, that read "Father of Native Genocide."

Sunday marks the 200th birthday of the man known as the founding father of Canada. 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper commemorated the occasion under tight security in Kingston, Ont. He described Macdonald as "a shining example of modesty, hope and success," but also alluded to his reputation as a drinker. 

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