City report recommends John A. Macdonald statue be removed from Regina's Victoria Park
Report is going before Regina's city council on Wednesday
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."
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.
"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."
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."
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.