Métis man wants John A. Macdonald schools renamed with Indigenous leaders

A Métis man from Guelph says renaming schools named after Sir John A. Macdonald is an important step in reconciliation.

Paul Smith said he wants to rewrite history to be 'more accurate'

Paul Smith standing in front of Saint-Antoine de Padoue Church in Batoche, Saskatchewan, site of a battle during the North-West Rebellion of 1885. (Courtesy of Paul Smith)

A Métis man from Guelph says he not only supports the motion to rename buildings named after Sir John A. Macdonald, but also wants to see landmarks named after prominent Indigenous leaders to "to commemorate First Nations, Métis and Inuit history."

The motion to rename schools was put forward by the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario at a recent meeting, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since said there are no plans to remove Macdonald's name in any federal properties.

Yet, Paul Smith still feels renaming schools is the right choice. In a letter to the editor in Guelph Today, he suggested Mistahimaskwa (Big Bear) or Gabriel Dumont as possible candidates. 

"Those people have been forgotten in our history," Smith told Andrea Bellemare, guest host for CBC K-W's The Morning Edition. "We need to rewrite our history to be more reflective, more real, more accurate to all the people from Canada."

'Entangled' with Macdonald since the beginning

He said his support for the idea of removing Macdonald's name from schools is a matter of family history; his ancestors were directly affected by the first prime minister's policies.

"We've been entangled with John A. from the very beginning," Smith said.

He specifically mentioned the negotiation between Louis Riel, founder of the province of Manitoba, and Macdonald. The agreement in the Manitoba Act was to give Métis families a title for the land they were already using — which did not happen as a result of Macdonald's military intervention.

"Our family didn't get the land that we were promised, like others there, so our family migrated west like a lot of Métis," he said.

His family moved to Saskatchewan, where his grandfather was born. His great uncle was also part of the 1885 North-West Rebellion, an uprising led by Louis Riel against the government of Canada.

"We have a special place in our hearts for John A. and I say that ironically," he said.

Rewriting history

While Macdonald's policies affected Smith's family, he acknowledges that was in the past and said he feels positive about the reconciliation efforts that are happening now.

"Many of us are very hopeful that things are changing quickly," he said.

Smith acknowledges the role that Macdonald played in being Canada's first prime minister and said he doesn't want all things named after him to be renamed.

What he's hoping for is to rewrite history so it's "more reflective, more real, more accurate to all the people from Canada."

"It's looking clearly at our history and learning from it."

Teachers' role in reconciliation

Smith mentioned in the letter to the editor that readers likely didn't know the several names of Indigenous leaders he suggested as possible names to use in place of Macdonald.

He said when he was in the public school system, he didn't learn very much about his own peoples' history. His knowledge was from extensive research and reading on his own time.

"I must say that I have a son in the public school system and he probably didn't get very much more than I did."

However, he said the province is making an effort in revamping the curriculum, saying his son learned more vocabulary in school than he did.

"This is still a work in progress, of course," Smith said.

"You can tell that the teachers are reflecting on what they should be doing to change the way we think about Indigenous peoples, and the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada."