Survey finds split on what should be done with Charlottetown's John A. Macdonald statue

A survey by the Native Council of P.E.I. has found a split of opinion among respondents identifying as Indigenous about the future of a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Charlottetown.

52% of respondents identifying as Indigenous said they want the statue removed

The statue of Sir John A. Macdonald can be found sitting on a bench on the corner of Richmond St. and Queen St. in downtown Charlottetown. (John Robertson/CBC)

A survey by the Native Council of P.E.I. has found a split of opinion among people identifying as Indigenous about what they feel should be done with a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald in downtown Charlottetown.

The statue was placed to mark Macdonald's role as a Father of Confederation during the 1864 Charlottetown Conference; he later became Canada's first prime minister. In recent months it has become a subject of controversy because of his part in creating the Indian Act and the country's residential school system.

At least twice, the Charlottetown statue has been the target of vandals.

"We wanted really to get the feeling of the general public and the overwhelming response was huge." said Lisa Cooper, president and chief of the Native Council.

Lisa Cooper, president and chief of the Native Council of P.E.I., says people were able to fill out the survey online or over the phone. (John Robertson/CBC)

Few respondents to the Native Council's online survey felt the statue should remain as it is. Among respondents identifying as Indigenous, 52 per cent felt it should be removed and 45 per cent said it should stay in place with an educational plaque added. Only three per cent thought it should remain as it is.

The survey was shared on the Native Council of P.E.I.'s Facebook page and website, and was open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. A total of 334 people responded, with 75 identifying as Indigenous.

The overall results of the survey were less evenly split, with 62 per cent saying it should be taken down, and 35 per cent supporting the addition of an educational plaque.

Surveys such as this, which solicit responses online from one organization's website or social media accounts, are not considered as accurate as random surveys. 

"Some population groups might be more motivated to answer the questionnaire," says a Statistics Canada disclaimer placed on its reports about crowd-sourced surveys. "Also, groups and communities with less Internet accessibility are likely to be underrepresented."

Seeking consultation with city

The Native Council of P.E.I. says it represents off-reserve Indigenous people on the Island. A council release said most of the Indigenous respondents to the statue survey — 66 of 74 — specified that they live off-reserve.

Regarding consultation, 84 per cent of total respondents said the Native Council of P.E.I. should have been consulted about the statue earlier.

Cooper said the residential school system has caused emotional ripple effects through the community. She said the council is hoping to advocate for action to be taken to help ease members' minds.

"We are now servicing four generations of people who came to the Native Council, that's historic. So they have been affected by this as well," Cooper said. 

"So I say, we need to just remove it. And if at some point it is decided that maybe it needs to go back with an Indigenous person at the other end of the seat ... then we can look at that. But for right now, lets just remove it and then figure it out through consultation."

As Canada's first prime minister, Macdonald is widely regarded as the architect of the residential school system. It is estimated about 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the schools until the last school closed in the 1990s. (John Robertson/CBC)

In a news release, the council said it is still waiting to be included in discussions with the city.

Coun. Kevin Ramsay told CBC News the city has held a meeting with L'nuey and the Mi'kmaq Confederacy, which represents P.E.I.'s Abegweit and Lennox Island band members.

"A meeting will need to be scheduled with the Native Council as well," he said in a statement Thursday. "We continue to wait for further input on what can be done at the site."  

Ramsay noted council voted 10-0 in June to keep the statue in place, but to consult with interested parties to determine the best way to recognize more fully Macdonald's role in Canadian history.

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