Mi'kmaw leaders, city at odds over changes for Charlottetown's John A. Macdonald statue

P.E.I.'s First Nations are taking issue with the way the City of Charlottetown is planning to deal with the controversial downtown statue of Sir John A. Macdonald.

Chiefs say just changing plaque on controversial monument 'not an acceptable solution'

Council in Charlottetown voted in June to open dialogue with Indigenous groups about the statue. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

P.E.I.'s First Nations are taking issue with the way the City of Charlottetown is planning to deal with the controversial statue of Sir John A. Macdonald.

The Epekwitk Assembly of Councils, a joint forum that governs organizations that act in the shared interest of Abegweit First Nation and Lennox Island First Nation, issued a statement on Thursday, signed by Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard and Chief Junior Gould from Abegweit First Nation. 

"We understood when we were asked for input following the City's decision to keep the statue last summer, that we were to provide recommendations on how that statue could be offset to address the situation in keeping with reconciliation objectives. What was not made clear was that the only intent to engage us was to assist in rewriting the existing plaque," the chiefs said in the statement. 

They say recent correspondence from the city indicated the city planned only to change the plaque and nothing else. 

Some members of Canada's Indigenous communities argue statues of Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, should be removed or changed because of his links to the formation of Canada's residential school system and the harm caused to Indigenous people. The statue in Charlottetown became a target of vandalism last summer

5 suggestions for statue

The assembly said it had made five suggestions to the City to amend the art installation and "tell the true story of this individual and begin to address the trauma that its presence is continuing to perpetuate," the statement said.

Those recommendations are: 

  • Add another figure such as an Indigenous child or elder.
  • Fill in or seal off the empty space on the bench so it can't be used for photo opportunities.
  • Install signage so viewers understand "the devastating role that Sir John A. Macdonald played in the Indigenous history of Canada."
  • If the artist engaged is not Indigenous, a Mi'kmaw artist should be hired as a consultant.
  • Complete the work as soon as reasonably possible with elements in place by spring at the latest.

"We had hoped that while work was underway, signage would have been immediately placed on the bench to a) remove the photo opportunity and b) advise that a project is underway to amend the installation to tell the true and complete history of Sir John A. Macdonald and his role in the policies and laws which continue to have devastating impacts on the Indigenous Peoples of Canada," the statement said. 

The chiefs said the matter has "dragged on too long" and that simply rewriting the plaque is not good enough.

It said the assembly of councils remains open to future engagement, but said it "does not support the simple rewriting or addition of a small plaque to be an acceptable solution."

When contacted by CBC news, Mayor Philip Brown said there's been miscommunication. The City thought it had an agreement in place with Mi'kmaw leaders to replace the plaque. However, Brown added nothing is off the table.

"We're working towards addressing all the points," he said, and the City hopes to "work this out co-operatively." He added that any experts or scholars engaged would be both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

Brown said the city is also taking into account that much work is about to be done in the area around the statue, including by Parks Canada to Province House, all of which will be taking into account the full history of Canada.

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