PEI

Native Council of P.E.I. asking community members for input on John A. Macdonald statue

The Native Council of P.E.I. is consulting with its members about the future of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue, which sits on a bench in downtown Charlottetown.

Council says it wants to hear from members before taking stand

Charlottetown council has already said the city plans to keep the statue in place and open talks with the Island's Indigenous community. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The Native Council of P.E.I. is consulting with its members about the future of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue, which sits on a bench in downtown Charlottetown.

Charlottetown council has already said the city plans to keep the statue in place and open talks with the Island's Indigenous community.

However, the Native Council of P.E.I. says it wants to hear from its members and the community before taking a stand.

"There are some that are for it as a teachable moment, but saying it should go a step forward with a plaque that states 'Yes, he's the first prime minister but he's also the architect, him and his party, are the architect of the Indian Act,'" said Lisa Cooper president and chief of the council.

Lisa Cooper, president and chief of the Native Council of P.E.I., says she can see why some people want the statue removed, and why others may want to keep is as a teachable moment. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

 She said he also led the formation of the residential school system, which separated Indigenous children from their parents and led to abuse and problems that have festered for more than a century.

"Some are saying there is a middle ground, other people are saying 'No, take it out.' So there was so much division we felt that the survey was the best voice of the community."

Cooper said without the survey she doesn't think she would be able to speak on behalf of the Island's Indigenous population.

My mother being a residential school survivor, I realize the others saying, 'it's an everyday reminder of what our parents went through.— Lisa Cooper, Native Council of P.E.I.

Cooper said she can see why people want to keep the statue as a teachable moment and why some may want it removed.

"Myself, as a teacher, there is part of me that says 'that's a teachable moment, like, wow here's an opportunity to teach Canadians about the Indian Act.'"

'Everyday reminder'

Cooper said keeping the statue could allow more Canadians to learn about things like the pass system that was created by Macdonald, which required all First Nation people living on reserve to get written permission from an Indian agent when they needed to leave their community.

If caught without a pass, they were either incarcerated or returned to the reserve.

The pass system was put in place in 1885 and enforced until the 1940s.

However, Cooper said there is another part of her that tells her the statue should come down.

"My mother being a residential school survivor, I realize the others saying, 'It's an everyday reminder of what our parents went through and what our community continues to go through under his policies," Cooper said, adding many Indigenous people are still affected.

Cooper said her opinion comes from "two places in her heart" and she cannot and will not decide without community input.

'Better way of speaking out'

In late June, somebody poured red paint over the statue.

In June, someone vandalized the statue sitting along Queen Street in Charlottetown. (Travis Kingdon/CBC)

Cooper said she does not condone vandalism. 

"I think there is a better way of speaking out and I think social media should be the way."

She said vandalism can be covered up, but speaking out, and creating a dialogue gets better results. 

Those wanting to access the survey can do so through the Native Council's Facebook page.

Cooper said survey results will be released publicly next month.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Wayne Thibodeau

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