Public monuments should represent history and reconciliation, not celebrate Canada's colonization

I have no objections to acknowledging important historical figures in public spaces, but that history — and those figures — should reflect the city and its people. 

Regina only city in Western Canada with a John A. Macdonald monument

Those against the presence of John A Macdonald's statue in Regina have vowed to continue pressuring city council and protesting in front of the statue until it's removed. (Bryan Eneas/CBC)

I have no objections to acknowledging important historical figures in public spaces, but that history — and those figures — should reflect the city and its people. 

Almost as soon as the ink was dry on the Treaties, First Nations people were herded onto reserves and essentially erased from history. This lack of acknowledgement of our existence has created a racial divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 

If we as a society are serious about creating a better future it should include all people. Keeping space for controversial figures, especially those who did not build this province, does nothing in terms of relationship building. 

Regina is the only city in Western Canada to have a monument of Canada's first prime minister. Saskatchewan has its own unique history. I would much rather see a monument of Tommy Douglas than of John A. Macdonald.

Better yet, what about something that finally acknowledges Canada's hidden history?

Most people do not know Thomas Moore-Keesick by his name, but many will recognize his image. He has become the face of Indian Residential Schools.

On Aug. 26, 1891, eight-year-old Moore Keesick, along with his brother Samuel and his sister Julia, were placed in the Regina Indian Industrial School.

The school operated from 1891 to 1910. Moore Keesick was the 22nd student to register and became known as No. 22.

Moore Keesick was from the Muscowpetung Saulteaux First Nation, located about 45 minutes northeast of Regina. He was the youngest child of Paul Desjarlais Sr. and Hannah Moore Keesick.

While at school he and Julia contracted tuberculosis. His sister died at the school, but he was sent home where he died at the age of 12.

The only reminder of the school is a small cemetery located west of Regina on Pinkie Road. This history would have been lost if the new landowner had not discovered the small cemetery and alerted the city.

A monument to this child may be more fitting for Regina than some of our current statues.

Macdonald doesn't exemplify Canadian values

Who was John A. Macdonald?

He was an alcoholic prone to binge drinking. A drunken Macdonald once puked in the House of Commons during a debate.

He was openly racist. Macdonald targeted First Nations, Métis, French and certain immigrant populations. He created the Indian Act and Indian Residential Schools. Macdonald had Métis leader Louis Riel executed for treason despite objections from French Canadians. 

Macdonald resigned from office in 1873 after being accused of accepting bribes from businessmen seeking the contract to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. 

In short, he did not exemplify the values Canadians pride themselves on today. 

A statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister, was toppled to the ground by demonstrators as a protest march calling for defunding of the police reached its end at Place du Canada in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Macdonald was re-elected and died in office in 1891. Saskatchewan didn't become a province until 1905, which means Macdonald never represented this province — yet his stature stands tall in downtown Regina. 

Over the summer a small group held a sit-in near the Macdonald monument. They wanted a meeting with the city to discuss removing the statue. Instead, a sign was placed at the base of the figure indicating the city was open to hearing from the community.

Dewdney another name not worth celebrating

Decolonizing Relations and the Buffalo People Arts Institute are pushing to remove any reference to Edgar Dewdney from public spaces. The city has agreed to public consultations, but no dates have been set. 

Dewdney, a B.C. politician, was the first Insp. of Indian Affairs and in 1881, Macdonald appointed him Lt.-Gov. of the Northwest Territories.

Dewdney's policies shaped the existing relationship between the federal government and Indigenous people.

He cleared the Prairies to make way for the transcontinental railway. Indigenous people and the buffalo were casualties of that pursuit. Many Chinese immigrants also lost their lives during construction of the railway.

As Lt.-Gov., Dewdney chose Regina as the capital of Saskatchewan. He owned land in the area and was criticized for his choice.

He never lived in Saskatchewan, yet one of Regina's most prominent streets is named after him, along with a park and pool.

On March 29, the city voted unanimously to act on the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions 94 Calls to Action and created Reconciliation Regina. Now is a great opportunity for the city to show its commitment to those calls to action.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Kerry Benjoe is a former journalist in Regina. She is Saulteaux/Dakota/Cree and is from Muscowpetung Saulteaux Nation.