Saskatchewan

City report recommends John A. Macdonald statue be removed from Regina's Victoria Park

Regina city administration said many Indigenous people feel the statue represents both past harms against them and the ongoing systems of colonial oppression that impact them today.

Report is going before Regina's city council on Wednesday

City administration said in a report that removing the statue doesn't erase history. Instead, the statue as it is tells an incomplete story, administration says. (Matt Howard/CBC)

A City of Regina report headed before Regina's city council is recommending the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria Park be removed and placed into storage while a future location is found. 

The report comes after demonstrations and a petition about the statue were heightened last summer. If approved, the city would consult local groups about an appropriate new place and signage. The new location would be decided at the start of 2022. 

"Administration has determined that the existence of the statue, and in particular, its prominent placement in Victoria Park is viewed by many in the Indigenous community as a relic from a time prior to the City of Regina's endorsement and commitment to Truth and Reconciliation," the report said. 

It's welcome news for Kerry Bellegarde-Opoonechaw. The Regina activist is one of the people behind an online petition for the statue's removal, and she protested around the statue last summer. 

"I'm really happy. I'm actually walking around in shock," Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said. "It's a small win." 

Kerry Bellegarde-Opoonechaw and Eveningstar Andreas held small protests and started a petition to have the John A. Macdonald statue removed from Victoria Park during the summer of 2020. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said back in the summer, she believed at first the petition wasn't going to work. However, she said after it gathered signatures, she continued to work behind the scenes and when the new Regina city council was elected, she was hopeful some action may happen. 

"I want to recognize the new city council and the mayor for letting us voice our opinion so profusely," she said. "And acknowledge this city council for being very proactive."

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said the new and old councillors reacted positively and openly to the idea, partly because of how she was trying to approach it in a fair and measured manner — as opposed to ripping it down as protestors did in Montreal.

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 in Montreal in August 2020. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"I'm delightfully surprised," activist Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway agreed. "It's definitely a good beginning for this new mayor and council." 

BigEagle-Kequahtooway is the main activist behind a 2018 petition to have the statue removed and a current petition to have Dewdney Avenue renamed.  She said in the past Regina has been slow in implementing anything of significance for Truth and Reconciliation so this is a welcome step. 

"Statues are for role models that we honour because of the legacy that they left behind," BigEagle-Kequahtooway said. "When they implemented some of the policies, they knew that they were doing harm to Indigenous people, but they still continued with it, because they had the belief that they were the better race." 

The legacy of that colonial ideology has led to the systemic racism that exists today, she said. BigEagle-Kequahtooway said while some people may be concerned, moving a statue doesn't erase history. 

"Unfortunately, history can't be erased," she said. "If you do look at history, and you read some of the documents that John A. Macdonald wrote … he really was dastardly and racist, and why would you want to honour that kind of legacy? We need to acknowledge that path forward."

Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway said she pictures a buffalo in John A. Macdonald's place and hopes the statue of him will be 'out of sight, out of mind.' (Submitted by Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway)

City administration agreed in their report, saying removing or relocating the statue doesn't have an impact on the broader understanding of history. It said while there is a "theme" in public response that it would "erase" history, administration said the statue on its own tells an incomplete story. 

Administration said the statue overlooks the negative impacts of Macdonald's policies and initiatives that have had a negative impact on Indigenous peoples and other ethno-cultural groups. 

"These policies include use of day schools and residential schools as tools of assimilation, relocation of Indigenous peoples away from traditional hunting and fishing areas to make room for European settlement, and an inadequate and often corrupt system for delivering rations to reserves," the report said. 

As well, the policy of the Chinese head tax was implemented under Macdonald at a cost of $50 — before growing to $500 and eventually being replaced by the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned most Chinese immigration until 1947. 

"These policies had a longstanding impact on the Chinese community in Canada; immigrants, mainly men, spent long years separated from their families, some never seeing their loved ones again. Lost cultural traditions occurred from this separation," the report said. 

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said she wants to see the full story of Macdonald taught in schools and be present around the statue. She said his policies leading to residential schools was nothing short of genocide. 

"To see it come down and then to see the city take it to the next level of letting the public be involved in where it's going to go… I mean, it's fair for all."

A red dress, which honours and represents missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, was hung beside the statue of John A. Macdonald in Victoria Park in July 2020. (CBC)

It will cost between $25,000 to $35,000 to remove the statue, treat the site and engage the public. The city said this money can already be found in existing budgets.

The new location would be in a location where it could be accessed when wanted — so not a public park or public event space — and will include appropriate context with interpretive panels that speak to Macdonald's full legacy, the report said.  

BigEagle-Kequahtooway said she pictures a buffalo in John A. Macdonald's place and hopes the statue of him will be "out of sight, out of mind" where it can be studied if requested but kept aside.

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said she would like to see it moved to Government House in Regina and replaced with a garden of traditional Indigenous medicines. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Heidi Atter

AP/Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi moved to Labrador in August, 2021. She has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director so far, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email heidi.atter@cbc.ca.

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