Love and Empathy over Colonial Gloating
From the Nest, Issue 7
by Jordan Carrier
At the end of May 2021 Canada entered into a reckoning when it was announced that a mass grave of 215 Indigenous children was found on the grounds of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia.
For most Indigenous peoples this was not a discovery but rather a recovery. Many of us have heard the stories of missing and unmarked burials of children from residential schools. We have heard about them through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and directly from survivors.
The TRC’s final report was released in 2015 with 94 Calls to Action, one of the volumes of the report is entitled Volume 4 – Missing and Unmarked Burials. Despite having this knowledge, finally finding them shook us to our core, retraumatized us, and reminded us of the attempt of genocide that was inflicted upon us – how so many of our children lost their lives just because they were Indigenous.
Shortly after the recovery of these children other schools had announced their findings, through the month of June the number of graves and children found was climbing quickly. Each announcement hurt just as much as the last. There were 139 residential schools across Canada and only 11 sites had completed their searches.
What does this have to do with Hamilton, especially downtown Hamilton? Hamilton is home to approximately 17,000 Indigenous peoples representing many different nations from across Turtle Island (North America). We are a vibrant community rich in diversity and culture. Hamilton is also home to many Indigenous organizations that provide programming, support, and advocacy to Indigenous community members.
We are your neighbours, co-workers, friends, and family. We have been trying to hold each other up through the process of these children being returned to their communities. We are trying to create safe spaces for Indigenous peoples in a City known for its hate.
In June, my friend called me and told me how they were often in downtown Hamilton and that every time they walked by the John A. McDonald statue they were triggered.
MacDonald is known by many Canadians as the first Prime Minister of Canada but to Indigenous peoples he is so much more than that. He was instrumental in inflicting genocide on Indigenous peoples. He was a white supremacist and, if it were up to him, I would not exist to share these words with you today.
My friend’s phone call led the Indigenous community to protest at the statue and to shroud it. We educated others about why we do not want to see him and we placed 215 silhouettes around him as a reminder of what he stood for.
Those silhouettes were then marched over by the crowd to City Hall and left in the forecourt to remind City Council of our call to action. From there, a letter template was created and the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion used it to create a petition to email letters directly to City Councillors and the Mayor.
As a result of these actions, Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann put forward a motion to the Emergency and Community Services Committee on July 8 and then to the whole City Council on July 9.
After lengthy debate at each meeting City Councillors did not support the motion and it was ultimately defeated 12-3 by City Council. Again, as an Indigenous person in Hamilton, am I surprised? No. Am I angry and hurt? Yes.
The Urban Indigenous Strategy will be doing a fulsome review of landmarks and monuments. City Council decided that they needed the facts, which supposedly this report will provide. The fact that Indigenous peoples led the request for the removal of the statue and researched what MacDonald did to Indigenous peoples are not deemed facts by those in positions of power.
Members of City Council also used a quote by the former Chief Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Senator Murray Sinclair, in order to support why the City should not remove the statue. The quote was, “The problem I have with the overall approach to tearing down statues and the buildings is that is counterproductive to … reconciliation because it almost smacks of revenge or smacks of acts of anger, but in reality, what we are trying to do, is we are trying to create more balance in the relationship.”
I would like to add an additional quote by Sinclair which he posted on social media on July 1, 2021 after two statues were toppled at the Manitoba Legislature.
He said ”I am not at all impressed by the acts of destruction such as this. The people who commit these acts and those who condone them, need to understand how much they set back any chance of moving dialogue on changing the bad relationship we have, forward.”
Sinclair is a well-respected leader within our communities but that does not mean his ideas are widely accepted. In the comments section, he was challenged by many Indigenous peoples expressing their disagreement. One of those comments was made by Isaac Murdoch, another well known Anishinaabe person, who shared how it is the responsibility of Canadians to take these monuments down.
We should not be idolizing those that have inflicted so much death, violence, harm, and trauma on Indigenous peoples. When Canadians do not take them down on their own accord and Indigenous peoples topple them, we are vilified.
The arguments for many MacDonald supporters is that taking down statues erases history, I would argue that glorifying those that are responsible for such atrocities actually erases history and contributes to the erasure of Indigenous voices and experiences.
Those arguing to keep the statue, such as those who delegated at the July 8 meeting, share inaccurate information, focus only on what benefits them, and completely ignore the experiences of Indigenous peoples and all of the racialized groups that he mistreated in order to “build this great country”.
This idolizing of folks who wanted a white Canada, and any support of these ideas, is down right gross.
No wonder Hamilton has such a problem with hate. In a social media post on July 5, Sinclair responded to comments from Winnipeg’s City Council stating that they wanted to either repair or replace the statues that were toppled. Sinclair stated that Council’s idea “borders on the idiotic” and that focusing on the “vandalism” of the statues ignores the “coloninal gloating” that these statues represent. He went on to suggest that the statue pedestals should remain empty “as monuments to a failed genocide”. He ends with – “This is Indigenous land too. Not just yours.”
So here we are, Hamilton City Council has ignored the calls from Indigenous peoples in the City of Hamilton to make downtown just a bit of a safer space for them. They also expect Indigenous peoples to continue to consult on providing input in the upcoming Landmarks and Monuments Review, after ignoring them.
I ask myself why I would participate in any of these consultations or any further consultations considering that our calls to action continue to go unheard.
Reconciliation has become like a four letter word and Hamilton’s efforts at it have fallen flat. The City of Hamilton tries really hard to present an illusion of Truth and Reconciliation but forces Indigenous peoples to assimilate into their processes.
City Council remains complicit in the attempted and ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples by dismissing the calls to show love, compassion, and empathy by removing the statue.
If City Council wants to make sincere efforts in reconciliation they need to listen to Indigenous peoples.
Jordan Carrier is a nêhiyaw-iskwêw (Plains Cree Woman), who has lived in Hamilton since 2002; she was born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan and is a member of Piapot First Nation; she has a Diploma from Mohawk College in Native Community Care, a Bachelor of Education in Aboriginal Adult Education from Brock University, and is currently completing a second degree (Honours BA) in Indigenous Studies at McMaster University; she has worked within the Urban Indigenous Community of Hamilton for the past 16 years at various organizations, such as De dwa da dehs nye>s Aboriginal Health Centre, Niwasa, and Indigenous Student Services at McMaster; she is a mom to twin 13 year olds Mahingan and Nikik and a sister, friend, daughter and community Auntie