Activists meet with Regina mayor about removal of John A. Macdonald statue

Two Regina women have met with Mayor Michael Fougere to discuss the possible removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria Park.

2 Regina women have gathered more than 2,500 signatures on petition to remove statue

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere, centre, speaks with Eveningstar Andreas, left, and Kerry Bellegarde-Opoonechaw near the John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria Park. Both women would like to see the statue removed from its spot in the park. (Raphaele Frigon/Radio-Canada)

Two Regina women met with Mayor Michael Fougere Friday to discuss the possible removal of the Sir John A. Macdonald statue in Victoria Park.

Kerry Bellegarde-Opoonechaw and Eveningstar Andreas created an online petition to urge the City of Regina to remove the statue of the first Canadian prime minister. 

The petition, which outlines Macdonald's mistreatment of Indigenous people, has gathered more than 2,500 signatures.

Statues of problematic figures are being taken down around the world, some by the public in protest, Bellegarde-Opoonechaw and Andreas said it is Regina's turn.

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said the brief 15-minute meeting with the mayor in front of the statue was polite.

"I'm quite happy because he was willing to work and liaison and, I mean, it's paperwork." Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said. "We have to understand that [there are] stakeholders involved, there's money involved in this.

"We also have to have that respect to work with the City of Regina and whoever else."

Andreas said she wishes to see the statue in a museum or other appropriate building, such as the Saskatchewan Legislature.

"Every time we try to come out here and enjoy the park [to see our] kids play, but then you look at this guy and you know what he did to the First Nations kids," Andreas said, pointing to the statue behind her. "How are we supposed to have a good day when we're still looking at this guy?"

Altercation at statue

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said while recently protesting at the statue, as they have been doing every day for the past 18 days, they had an altercation with a racist man who was angry with their message.

There were red dresses hanging around the statue, which honour and represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as placards on display.

"He had come right up to the statue and he had torn down one of our red dresses." Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said. "It had tobacco ties on it, which are very sacred to us."

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said the man also tore down and spat on the placards that were around the statue.

"He continued to fight, calling us racist things," she said. "It was very demeaning."

She said the altercation was intimidating and was also brought up with the mayor.

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

"It's not acceptable in this day and age." Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said. "I feel that that is something seriously that we need to work [on with] the city and re-educate our families."

City working on a solution

Fougere said the city is in the middle of a public consultation process regarding the statue, which includes consulting with Indigenous leaders and communities as well as the public.

"We will compile that information and ultimately council will make the final decision," Fougere said.

He said there are a few options as to what will happen with the statue of Macdonald, including leaving it where it is and adding plaques that address Macdonald's problematic legacy with Indigenous people.

A sign placed around the bottom of the statue by the City of Regina states they are working with Indigenous elders, artists and community members on how to proceed. (CBC News)

"Explain the hurt under his leadership that happened in Canada but also who he is and where he came from." Fougere said. "So historical, but also the bad things he did with residential schools, as an example, and just speaking about the hurt that has been done to our country."

He said other options are to move the statue to another location in the city or to destroy it.

Fougere would not give his opinion on the issues surrounding the statue, but said he had an issue with a Canadian flag on the statue with the word "murderer" written on it.

Along with a Canadian flag with the word “murderer” written across it, the Sir John A. Macdonald statue held a red shirt that said "racism". (CBC News)

"I think that that's a separate issue completely." Fougere said. "In my view, [it] is not necessary. You've made your point.  It's defacing our flag of Canada and, for me, it's not necessary, it's not helpful."

Bellegarde-Opoonechaw said the mayor has the right to his opinion.

"I myself, I'm a treaty member so I don't associate with the Canadian flag, although we do live in what they call Canada," she said.

With files from Raphaele Frigon