Founding father, architect of genocide?

Removing John. A Macdonald’s name from schools won’t bring the change we need 

Greta Kooy // Campus Life Editor 


At its annual meeting on Aug. 14, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) called for, or rather demanded, the removal of Sir John A. Macdonald’s name from schools and other buildings across the province. According to the ETFO, this motion was put forward to acknowledge Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples”. This, however, is not the most efficient or logical approach to decolonization in Canada. 

Robert-Falcon Ouellette, a member of Parliament who is of English and Cree descent, agrees. In conversation with CBC’s The House host Chris Hall, Ouellette said, “When we start effacing completely that history, and not recognizing it, then people can forget very readily what occurred. And so for me it’s always important to have that anchor”, adding that keeping Macdonald’s name on public schools allows for reflection and understanding of Canadian history.  

The move sparked immediate debate across Canada, creating polarizing opinions across the board. The ETFO’s motion does not come as a surprise in light of recent events in the United States, but confused many Canadians (of only about 25 per cent of whom are in support of this motion).  

A little over two weeks after the ETFO’s appeal, the Colonialism No More and Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism held a rally at Victoria Park in Regina to petition the removal of a statue commemorating the nation’s first prime minister. While there is definitely support for the actions carried out by the ETFO and the Colonialism No More and Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism groups, not everybody agrees that Macdonald’s name should be viewed as a threat.  

Canada is a young country, having just celebrated 150 years since confederation. Its history is complex, and of course not without imperfections. The plight of First Nations peoples in Canada is unfortunately still an issue that requires some serious acknowledgement and hard work on the part of both the Canadian government and the rest of the country. It’s easy to understand why some may have a problem with Macdonald’s still very public presence, taking into consideration his role as Prime Minister and his policies regarding Indigenous peoples during Canada’s earlier years.  

“The aboriginal community is still healing,” said Clay Little, First Nations Community Engagement Facilitator at Capilano University. “I can understand why there is a movement to take these names away. But I can also understand that there are two thoughts here… So it’s how do you find the balance to address what happened and move on as a whole, as a country.”  

The man on our shiny, purple ten-dollar bill, often referred to as Canada’s founding father, was indeed far from perfect. On one hand, Sir John A. Macdonald is responsible for having united eastern and western Canada, as well as having a heavy influence in the creation of the transcontinental railway. On the other hand, he supported the creation of residential schools and the implementation of the 1876 Indian Act. He also has a reputation for being a raging alcoholic. 

In the end, a school is a place of learning, and learning comes with difficult subjects.  It is important that we teach younger generations all parts of our history so that they may remember, and learn from even the most unpalatable parts of it. 

It’s clearly not the objective of the ETFO, or any other social justice group, to erase history. Rather, the intention is to bring these issues to the foreground, and in a way that challenges our traditional thoughts and biases. Only then are we are able to begin the necessary dialogue regarding our history as a country that is inclusive and respectful of all Canadians.   

While his name carries with it a stark reminder of Canada’s imperialist past, will removing his name from public spaces, especially from public schools, bring with it the kind of change we as a country need? Probably not, but it’s the start of a much bigger, and long overdue, conversation.  

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