Zombie-Attack on Statue of Sir John A. Macdonald – I guess not many people today would have doubts about the shameful treatment given to the aboriginal peoples of Canada. Forcefully displaced from their traditional lands, settled in reservations that often couldn’t satisfy their basic needs, their children sent to residential schools where their culture was erased –these are some of the historical injustices to which they were subjected.
Successive governments have apologized for those past actions –the current prime minister already did, and just a few weeks ago the Quebec premier also asked for forgiveness for the province’s treatment of the aboriginals in its territory. However, most people would agree that those words and intentions are not yet met with concrete action.
Statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, an easy target
In response to official inaction, some people have taken the initiative to respond. Social mobilization and protest are usual ways by which citizens may respond. However, while meeting an unjust situation with an act of rebellion is justified, the question is what form this social reaction will take, and whether such form is the most adequate.
On October 31, a group that calls itself the “Anti-colonial zombies of the Old Saint-Antoine Cemetery, buried under Dorchester Square and Place du Canada” issued a statement in which it claimed responsibility for a new attack on the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, located on the northern side of Place du Canada, facing René Levesque Boulevard. The monument was attacked with orange paint.
Zombie-Attack on Statue of Sir John A. Macdonald?
In its press release, the Anti-colonial Zombies stated: “You have covered us in asphalt, concrete, and colonial-themed parks. You have desecrated our memories with monuments to the architects of genocide, like the racist John A. Macdonald, who attacked the culture and traditions of the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island.” (According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, “Turtle Island is the name many Algonquian –and Iroquoian-speaking peoples mainly in the northeastern part of North America use to refer to the continent. In various Indigenous origin stories, the turtle is said to support the world, and is an icon of life itself.”)
Basically, Sir John A. Macdonald is accused of instituting the residential school system whose aim was to assimilate the indigenous people and destroy their cultures and languages. He is also accused of other acts that, for many, would reveal a racist mindset.
However, there are some contradictions too. According to an article by Tristin Hopper published on August 28, 2018, in the National Post, while severe accusations could be made against Macdonald, the author also cites a text in which he acknowledges the aboriginals’ title to this land: “We must remember that they are the original owners of the soil, of which they have been dispossessed by the covetousness or ambition of our ancestors,” he wrote in a letter proposing the creation of the Department of Indian Affairs.
However, the problem now, more than 150 years later is how to balance his action as one of the founders of this nation with the tragic results of one of his most significant policies. Should his statue be subjected to regular attacks? Elsewhere, his statue in Victoria B.C. was simply removed, and teachers in Ontario have demanded that all schools named after him in that province undergo a name change. In the case of Montreal, however, there is an added element: many Quebec separatists may join in attacking the monument not for what Macdonald did to the aboriginals, which they most likely don’t care, but because it allows them to attack Canada too.
And last, but not least, as Montrealers, we shouldn’t forget the aesthetic value of the place: Place du Canada, recently renovated. The monument was unveiled in 1895, the work of British sculptor George Edward Wade featuring Macdonald under a canopy, which is a beautiful piece of public art. Do we advance a just political cause by vandalizing the site? Wouldn’t it be better to add on a separate plaque some more balanced historical description? His achievements, including his contribution to the creation of Canada, but also the dreadful policies he implemented regarding the indigenous people, would be described. Presenting the old historical view that the monument itself represents is fine. That, as long as it goes together with a contemporary, revised assessment of a past with other values, certainly less enlightened. This would undoubtedly help everybody to make up their own minds on the issue. And especially understand that most people, even those immortalized in bronze, have their dark sides as well. Still, I would save the orange paint for other uses.