Indigenous

Hiawatha chief calls out Peterborough MPP for 'worshipping' John A. Macdonald in Facebook post

Chief of Hiawatha First Nation is calling out local Peterborough Progressive Conservative Party of Canada MPP Dave Smith following a Facebook post about John A. MacDonald. 

'Enough with telling only one side of the story,' says Hiawatha First Nation Chief Laurie Carr

Protesters in Montreal toppled a statue of John A. Macdonald during a demonstration over the weekend calling for cities to defund police forces. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The chief of Hiawatha First Nation is calling on a local Peterborough MPP to acknowledge the full legacy of John A. Macdonald's actions after he made a Facebook post praising Canada's first prime minister. 

On Aug. 29, Progressive Conservative MPP Dave Smith shared a National Post article about protesters in Montreal toppling a statue of Macdonald during a demonstration calling for cities to defund police forces.

Smith's caption in the post said "enough is enough with the current cancel culture." It said that Macdonald "had flaws" but were it not for him "we would not have this great country." 

It continues that since Canada is a democracy, "If you do not like what this country stands for, and you do not like the history of this country, then put your name forward on a ballot and work to change things.

"Cowards hide behind a mask in a mob."

Smith is the Parliamentary Assistant to Ontario's Minister of Indigenous Affairs.

In recent years, there have been calls to remove statues of Macdonald because of the role he played in creating the Indian Act and the residential school system, and in the execution of Métis leader Louis Riel. 

Smith's constituency includes Curve Lake First Nation reserve. Nearby Hiawatha First Nation is not within Smith's riding but the riding is part of the traditional territory of the Mississauga Nation. 

Hiawatha First Nation Chief Laurie Carr said she was "floored" when she read Smith's post, but not surprised. 

She said it's disheartening to read comments like that coming from a government official because they're in a leadership role.

"You're praising someone who tried to be rid of First Nations people," she said.

"We're asking the Canadian population to be educated on First Nations treaties, lands — teachers and different companies — but are politicians being educated?"

Chief posts open letter

On Sept. 2, Carr posted an open letter to Smith saying "enough is enough with the idolizing and worshipping" of Macdonald as a father of Confederation and a nation builder.

"Enough with telling only one side of the story and making it sound as though he did this work with a vision of democracy for all of Canada and then, with a wave-of-the-hand, dismiss his actions by saying 'he had flaws.'"

She goes on to list some of Macdonald's actions including the starvation of Indigenous people so land would be vacated and the railway could be built, public executions of Indigenous people and the creation of the residential school system. 

"This behaviour, this assault, is not, in your words, a 'flaw.' It was a well-drawn out policy against Indigenous Peoples," Carr wrote in the letter. 

Carr's letter encourages Smith to learn more and offers to help teach him.

'History needs to be told'

Smith said the intent of his post was to talk about the vandalism of the statue.

He said he is glad Carr brought forward her concerns and she's right that "the history needs to be told and we have to make sure that everybody in Canada recognizes and understands not only the good but also the bad and the ugly that has occurred."

"It's incumbent on all of us that we're well educated on everything that occurred and that nothing is hidden. There's been a great deal of sacrifice by Indigenous communities over the years and this is something that everyone in Canada and Ontario needs to recognize and know as we move forward."

About the Author

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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