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In 2017 the City of Victoria began a formal process of reconciliation with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, the Lekwungen speaking peoples on whose homeland the City is founded. When the City first approached the Nations, it was in a very colonial way, asking them to sit on a “reconciliation task force.” Through conversation we learned that a more Indigenous-focused approach would be a better way to proceed if we were sincere in wanting to pursue truth and reconciliation. In response, we formed a City Family and began a Witness Reconciliation Program.

Council set this process in motion through approval of the Witness Reconciliation Program in June 2017. As part of this process, decision making with regards to reconciliation (other than budgetary allocations) are made by the City Family with the Songhees and Esquimalt Chief and Councils as witnesses. Witnesses, in Lekwungen tradition, listen to the story of the family and give their input and guidance to find a good way forward.

Part of the conceptual framework endorsed by Council in June 2017 included the following language:

“For the City to do more than talk about Reconciliation, we must be prepared to question convention, learn from Indigenous custom and tradition, and risk doing things differently than our usual routines and processes. Our comfortable reliance on terms of reference, timelines, work plans, benchmarks, checklists and other conventional assessments of success and progress will not add value or meaning to this work, move it forward, or demonstrate our readiness to face and embrace the challenges of Reconciliation.”

This language in the June 2017 report outlined what might be considered a decision-making process:

“After each Witness Ceremony is complete, and the advice of the Witnesses offered and heard, the City Family will facilitate the actions needed to realize the ideas endorsed by the Witnesses.”

The City Family has been gathering since the summer of 2017. We gather once a month in my office at City Hall and share food and conversation. One time, recently, I suggested to the family that perhaps we could “come to you” and meet at the Esquimalt Nation or the Songhees Nation. Hereditary Chief Ed Thomas gently pointed out, “You don’t need to come to us. You are always already on our territory.” This is just one example of the many humbling and generous truth-tellings that has been shared during the process.

After a year of discussion, deliberation, truth-sharing, and seeking counsel from the Songhees and Esquimalt Chiefs and Councils on multiple occasions, the family decided on the first concrete action we would like to take as we continue the path of truth and reconciliation. We will remove the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front doors of city hall so that the family members and other Indigenous people do not need to walk past this painful reminder of colonial violence each time they enter the doors of their municipal government.

In addition to being the first Prime Minister of Canada, John A. MacDonald was a key architect of the Indian Residential School system. In 1879 he said, “When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

I am ashamed to say that I have an undergraduate degree in Canadian history, a master’s in Canadian history and a half-completed PhD in Canadian history. It is not until we began this Witness Reconciliation Program that I learned about the role that Canada’s first prime minister played in developing residential schools, the effects of which are well known to be still felt today both by school attendees and their children and grandchildren.

The statue will be removed and stored in a city facility until an appropriate way to recontextualize MacDonald is determined. We do not propose to erase history but rather to take the time through the process of truth-telling and reconciliation as part of the Witness Reconciliation Program to tell this complex and painful chapter of Canadian history in a thoughtful way.

Members of the City Family have worked together to craft this language that will go on a plaque where the current statue stands. The witnesses – the Chiefs and Councils of the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations – have provided their input and approved the final wording:

In 2017, the City of Victoria began a journey of Truth and Reconciliation with the Lekwungen peoples, the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations, on whose territories the city stands. 

 The members of the City Family – part of the City’s Witness Reconciliation Program – have determined that to show progress on the path of reconciliation the City should remove the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald from the front doors of City Hall, while the City, the Nations and the wider community grapple with MacDonald’s complex history as both the first Prime Minister of Canada and a leader of violence against Indigenous Peoples.

 The statue is being stored safely in a city facility. We will keep the public informed as the Witness Reconciliation Program unfolds, and as we find a way to recontextualize MacDonald in an appropriate way.  For more information please visit www.victoria.ca/reconciliation

The statue will be removed on Saturday August 11th and the plaque installed immediately. After an appropriate amount of time has passed (as determined by Elders from the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations) a cleansing, blessing and healing ceremony will be held in the space where the statue formerly stood. In the longer term, as determined by motion of Council in late 2016, a piece of art representative of Lekwungen culture will likely go in this space.

For the full City Family Story and documents that will be presented to Committee of the Whole tomorrow please head here and see item I3.

60 comments

    1. There goes our culture and history pretty soon the only thing left standing is their totem poles.

    2. My mother lives in Esquimalt, and thinks this is just plain old non-sense.

      I’m contemplating to appear in person and help others stop the removal or the statue of Sir John A Macdonald – and there’s nothing the city can do without getting a court order – so this whole thing is going to blow up in their face and create so much unnecessary controversy, and it’s all on the mayor and her push towards cultural nihilism…

    3. 85% oppose the removal of MacDonald’s statue. But in Ms. Help’s world, that constitutes a 15% “contextual” majority.

  1. I appreciate the interests of local first nations, absolutely. But do we not also recognize John A for all his accomplishments as well? I didn’t see any of that in the Mayor’s comments.

  2. This post caused me to weep. How far BACKWARDS are we going to go? I totally respect the horrific times of residential schools and the mistreatment of First Nations people..but how many apologies are needed? How much of our history will we erase? How many landmarks will we never be able to teach our grandchildren?

    I am NOT minimizing what happened…but we must LEARN from history and move FORWARD. I was raised in Ireland where MANY horrific events took place..but PLEASE stop trying to blot out history. This seems something decided by a group of people on behalf of all of Canada…who has that right???

    The bike lanes were a controversial issue but I chose to back you in this election. However I truly believe you have sold us out by this decision.

    1. I completely agree with half of what you’re saying Trish. But in Germany or Austria you won’t find statues of Hitler standing in remembrance of how he turned around the German economy or inspired the German nation. What I believe you argument is lacking is that the Canadian Indian residential school system wasn’t actually called out until the 2000s and those schools existed up until the 1980s.

      Put yourself in the shoes of a young native child today in Victoria, do you see any statues or positive figures for them that celebrate their traditions and “success”?

      1. Very well said West. I can’t imagine anyone being affected positively by this statue as most people know very little about him, let alone his involvement in the Indian Act. Removing him is not erasing history, it is helping us learn and be respectful.

  3. Yes, Sir John A. held views that have to be considered in the context of his times, and, yes, he promoted residential schools. He was also Canada’s greatest prime minister, without whom there would probably be no Canada.

  4. Are you kidding me?!!! This is what is wrong with this city, this province and this country. Handwringers like you Helps will be the end of civil society. The politics of identity and pandering to the aggrieved will only fracture society, not bring us together. I will actively work to unseat you and your I’ll in the next municipal elections

  5. Removing this statue, working with First Nations in the area, and creating a plan to contextualize John A MacDonald in a way that respects the indigenous peoples of this area, and makes all who live here reflect on Canada’s history, is a fantastic idea. Well done.

  6. “The City Family has been gathering since the summer of 2017. We gather once a month in my office at City Hall and share food and conversation. One time, recently, I suggested to the family that perhaps we could “come to you” and meet at the Esquimalt Nation or the Songhees Nation. Hereditary Chief Ed Thomas gently pointed out, “You don’t need to come to us. You are always already on our territory.” This is just one example of the many humbling and generous truth-tellings that has been shared during the process.”

    LOL. that’s all you need to know right there: eventually, the only satisfactory ‘reconciliation’ is the one which sees the removal of any European traces whatsoever. (that would include all forms of modern government too, mayor Lisa.)

    I would offer cap-tipping respect for any councilperson who gave up their government career and associated pension as a show of good will in this regard. anything less, i’m afraid, is mere pandering. And everyone, especially native folks, knows it very well.

  7. This is very well written, especially the part about how Indigenous peoples have to walk past the statue to enter city hall. To me, that makes this conversation very real, very tangible. Reconciliation is not abstract: it needs to be actualized in the physical world, not just in our hearts. My two cents: remove the statue now and reposition, if possible, within reconciliation later.

  8. And this isvwhy we will never have a John A. MacDonald federal holiday in February. What a country!

  9. Although I understand the history and support the need for us to move forward with reconciliation, how is it we decide what part of history is removed from view and what stays to assist with healing? Captain James Cook gave much to the world in discovering new lands and fostering relationships between peoples. He also attempted kidnapping a Hawaiian chief ultimately resulting in his murder, yet I see no discussion of removing his statue from Wharf Street? True, we are not on Hawaiian territories but we still choose to honour him with a statue. If it is our intention to honour history and not just when it suits us for personal or political gain, then we should put all statues in a museum where as individuals we may choose whether or not to view them.

    1. Pretty thick with the irony; you’re proud to be Canadian on a day when the statue of our 1st prime minister is to be removed. You cannot change the past, you can only learn from it and trying to change what happened by burying it never solves anything.

  10. Shame on you Lisa Helps! Self-loathing steps like this do nothing for reconciliation. You’ve weakened a nation today. We need to stop looking back at yesterday through the eyes of today and start looking forward towards building one Canada not two.

  11. This shows real commitment, not lip service to reconciliation. Who choses what parts of our shared history to tell? Who chooses which leaders to remember with statues? Deciding together is the only way we can forge a new and better relationship. Thank you for your commitment and service.

  12. Ms. Helps,

    I e-mailed you when you allowed the tent city to exist over many months. At the time I was disgusted with the non action City hall took. Perhaps you missed the history class which taught that Sir John A. Macdonald created Canada. I truly hope you and council members who voted for this action lose their seat in the next election as you are not fit to govern the city of Victoria.

  13. I didn’t know about the City Family and the Witness Reconciliation Program. I’m hopeful about this different way of working with Indigenous peoples! Confronting our shared history may be uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to move forward.

  14. I think anyone offended by this action should ask him/herself, would I feel the same way if my grandparents, aunts, uncles and others had been forcibly removed from their homes as children and taken to a distant location to be “re-educated” on the orders of the prime minister? Yes, JA MacDonald is a pivotal figure in our nation’s history and must be recognized publicly in las such. But truthfully, his connection to Victoria is tenuous to say the least. He was our federal MP for four years (1878-1882) but never once visited the city. We could certainly relocate it to a more neutral location with no disrespect to his memory or his accomplishments.

  15. This is sheer lunacy!

    One of the most valuable lessons I learned in History class is that we can’t judge historical figures based on modern values. I wonder if Victoria’s Mayor and City Council would be so “enlightened” if they lived that long ago. We need to learn from History; not erase it.

    I hope that there is a massive resistance to this short-sighted, anti-democratic, Orwellian act of erasing inconvenient History. Lisa Helps should put her money where her mouth is, and resign from her colonial office of Mayor. If that fails, I sincerely hope that she is removed during the next election.

  16. Several members of IslandTransformations.Org do hope that when a terminus of the current E&N rail services has been authorized and funded, Sir John A will once again be installed to recognize his personal efforts to conclude rail connections from Halifax, NS. to Victoria, BC.

  17. How far back at you going to go to correct the “wrongs”
    Enough is enough -history is history leave it that way

  18. Removing the statue of MacDonald is a good start, but we still have a long way to go to make up for the hateful legacy of colonialism. The presence of whiteness itself, not only in North America, but around the world is a stain that must be vanquished from history. Fortunately, the oppressive concept of whiteness will soon be eradicated from the global consciousness as it eventually dissolves in a war and purifying bath of diversity. Less “white” people are having children and mixed marriages are increasingly common. In the coming decades, “whiteness” will end up as a closed chapter in the history books and we will be left in a more just and equitable world.

    1. Just ‘wow’. An absolutely racist point of view. Almost qualifies as hate speech actually, but not quite. When you say ‘The presence of whiteness itself, not only in North America, but around the world is a stain that must be vanquished from history.’ – maybe you should elaborate just how this plan must be carried out.

      All of this on the Mayor of Victoria’s website folks…. get used to it. The history bandits aren’t going to stop here.

  19. why not erect a statue of the individual that unified the first nations across the country alongside that of sir John A? Recognition for positive accomplishments instead of focusing on the negative.

  20. So City council has looked through their “2018 glasses” and decided to remove the statue of Canada’s saviour, John A. Macdonald. Now that’s progress!

    The year was 1866 and a bill was reported to U.S. Congress which read in part: “a bill for the admission of the states of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East, and Canada West, and for the organization of the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan, and Columbia.” While it was not Macdonald’s idea to unite British Colonies, he was definitely the catalyst, and every Canadian who cherishes this country should acknowledge and give credit to those to whom it is due. I realize it may be difficult for Canadians who have never had to fear “invasion” to even conceive of such a terrible idea as our country being invaded; nevertheless this does not diminish the gratitude which is due to those who rose up to defend it.

    It was in 1883 that an opposition member rose to address Parliament on the issue of a statue for native leader Joseph Brant. Natives on the Brantford reserve had started a fund to build a statue to Brant by setting aside $5,000 for this purpose. (You will recall that Hector Langevin’s name has been removed from the “Langevin Block” across the street from Parliament). Yet, Hector Lengevin was named, along with the Governor General, and the Earl of Dufferin as having personally given funds from their pockets to support such a commemoration to Joseph Brant. And what of Macdonald’s response? He rose to address Parliament and indicated that he was willing to entertain at least matching the amount set aside by those on the Brantford reserve; in addition, he thought a similar commitment should be made to commemorate the sacrifice of Tecumseh.

    And what about “schooling on reserves?” Contrary to popular opinion, the TRC report does not tell the whole story. Indian Affairs reports indicate serious difficulties in getting teachers to teach on reserves, despite government attempts. And the resignations of officials also sheds light on difficulties. One official, in his resignation letter, indicated that the only way he could get parents to send their children to his school was if he clothed and fed them!

    If city council were to “jump” every time someone “disliked” something, there would not be a need for a council. Its time to show some “backbone,” and give Macdonald the credit he is due, along with the other fathers of confederation.

  21. The last residential schools closed in 1996. Here on the island, it was the late 70s. Survivors of these schools are all around us. It was only one of the horrific tools of colonization, of which John A Macdonald was largely the architect. Indigenous people know this. We as settlers need to know this, too. It’s our responsibility to make a living amends for the colonization that continues to this day, which statues are symbolically celebrating. Removing the statue is a great start towards recognizing genocide.

  22. Oh, the arrogance. It seems you, Lisa, are well disposed to recognize indigenous history and tradition. How about taking a page from your own historical traditions, do the Christian thing, forgive John A. his sins and let the statue stay. Or would that be too much? :How dare you infer that you and your “City Family” knew the mind of this man in the context of his time. I urge you to take a lesson from Liverpool and their thoughts to rename streets named after
    slavers.

    How much do you know of the indigenous cultures you choose to revere? Can you say they were any better than our cultures in their time? Do you think their land claims were the same throughout the long time of history until the white man came? Do you think they didn’t fight and kill for the same lands? There is enough blood for all of us to share. History is what it is and we are what we are, where and when we are. Your pious rants and small gestures cannot change that. Get on with running the city. That is what you were elected to do. Enough revisionism

    Check your DNA, Lisa. No doubt it is full of the remnant of many peoples. People who conquered your ancestors and were conquered by them. We are ALL conquered peoples. The better of us realize that and move on.

  23. Once again this council doesn’t allow the rest of the citizens of victoria have a vote in this matter. I fully understand understand what the indigenous people endured, but he was also Canada’s first prime minister and that should not be forgotten. You can’t hide or erase the past, you come to terms with it, learn from it and move past it. I will be happy to see this council voted out in October and others voted in who will give the citizens a voice in what happens in this city. You were voted in by the people, you should have given those people a chance to speak as well.

  24. Me too! Also my vote for mayor of Victoria in November will Not be for Lisa Helps who has made a gigantic mess of our fair city – I think the statue of John A MacDonald would make a better mayor than Helps.

  25. Violence against the indigenous people of Canada, and against anyone, is totally unacceptable. However, the statue of John A. Macdonald was erected there in recognition of his merits as one of the founders of Canadian Confederation, as a Prime Minister for six terms, and for his vision in the beginning of the transformation of a small colony into the great country Canada is today. Let’s recognize his merits and forgive his failings.

  26. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, what really is the issue here? How many of those who are protesting the removal of this statue actually have had meaningful conversations with a First Nation person about reconciliation? How many of us have truly tried listening to those who’s values differ from others and work towards more open, understanding between opposing groups? I believe Mayor Helps engages in honest open dialogue with everyone willing to engage in true discussion. If the statue upsets some of our population, it’s removal is appropriate. We no longer live by 19th century values and neither should we.

    1. hi Shirley,

      honest question here: given that the Roman Catholic Diocese administered virtually all residential schools in north America, would it not also be appropriate to have all catholic churches in the area removed… and sent away for ‘recontextualizing’ ?

      I ask this because I truly want to understand where people think it is safe to ‘draw the line’ and say ‘ok, I think we’ve done all we can do here.’

      thx!

  27. this is an honest question: what is the endgame for reconciliation? I mean, if token gestures can theoretically ‘ease the pain’, why not take it straight to the final offering and, once and for all, ‘make it fully right’, ie: why not fully divest this entire continent of ALL potentially upsetting ‘colonial symbols’, both literal and implied ?

    I ask this because I don’t understand how removing the image of one symbolic ‘villain’ can set the record straight. but if it does actually ‘help’, then why not remove the whole living, breathing culmination of that person’s actions as well, ie: the government that continues to occupy and govern the land of the people who are hurt by the very sight of the figurehead’s image?

    it would seem obvious to me that anyone wanting to truly make things right with the native community would strive to tear down the government, not work for it as a mayor or councilperson.

    to sum this up in a simple image: when you reclaim or reconcile the land, after an oil well has depleted… you don’t simply remove the pump and signage. you clear out. you remove all traces. and you don’t go back.

    hence, the real honest question is: Are you reconciling, or just serving cake?

  28. What’s next? How about renaming the Grey Cup? After all, the cup’s donor, Earl Albert Grey, one time Governor General of Canada, advised Sir John A. Macdonald about the danger posed to BC by (and I quote) the “yellow peril”. I dare you!

  29. I am inspired by this action on behalf of the City of Victoria to honor the Truth of what the image of John A. Macdonald represents to Indigenous peoples. I respect that contextualizing history, and taking the time to do that respectfully for all involved, is a complex process. Congratulations on listening. I fully support this.

  30. EVERY POLITICAL LEADER HAD TO DO WHAT NEEDED TO BE DONE. Teach the history properly, make the necessary changes. BUT YOU DONT ERASE a person or the history. Canada is Canada because of who we are , how we are and what we’ve become in the learning curve that has been the growth of a nation who has learned from our mistakes and become better. THAT DOES NOT MAKE SIR JOHN A. MACDONALD A BAD PERSON.
    BRITISH COLUMBIA WOULD NOT EXSIST, OR WORSE CASE SENARIO BE EVEN AMERICAN IF IT WERE NOT FOR SIR JOHN A. MCDONALD AND THE DIFFICULT DECISIONS HE AND THE GOVERNMENT OF THE TIME HAD TO MAKE. ERASING HIM, MEANS ERASSING WHERE CANADA CAME FROM AND WHAT WE HAVE BECOME. A SOCIETY TOLERANT, LEARNING FROM OUR MISTAKES.
    REWRITE, TEACH PROPERLY, OWN UP TO OUR MISTAKES BUT !!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU DONT ERASE, OR REMOVE. THATS NOT ACCEPTABLE.
    I AM A PROUD CANADIAN. WARTS AND ALL.

  31. This decision is a good contender for the dumbest most disgraceful things ever done by a politician in Canada. Shame on Mayor Helps. The good citizens of Victoria need to “help” her out of office as quickly as possible.
    John A MacDonald was not perfect, but he achieved many great things for this country.

  32. Humans need heroes and symbols that help us aspire to be smarter, braver and kinder. I don’t know much about John A MacDonald or anyone else who had a statue made of them. But I care about the people in our community who want to see new heroes in our public spaces; heroes that will help us through the next era of tough times to come. To me, reconciliation means accepting that my ancestors have had their turn running the show and it’s long past time to share the civic arena. I hope our elected officials have the courage to keep leading reconciliation efforts and ignore polls and hateful comments on social media.

  33. How does this support reconciliation? Isnt reconciliation supposed to involve two sides and yet this does not. It feels like a small group making backroom decisions.

  34. It would do good for young folks to learn about the rich history of John Mcdonald. Without him we would have no patented victoria fried pickle, and youngsters would never have learned the classic tune about old Mcdonald and his farm, full of life lessons about how each animal can have his own political ideology and yet we can still get along!

  35. Apolgies for error in my prior comment. Got too much John A on my mind. Earl Grey GG of Canada advised the then Federal Cabinet over what he referred to as the “yellow peril”.
    An anachronism, not a recontextualisation!

  36. next honest question: wouldn’t it make more sense to change Victoria’s name? She was, afterall, Sir John’s boss across the pond..

    1. When you to go to vote in October, just remember that Geoff Young was the only member of the council to vote against this. Every other member of the council voted to remove the statue…

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