Are we burying our history?

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‘Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.’

Winston Churchill

What is this world coming to?  We are destroying our history by tearing down all of our historic monuments and attempting to erase any piece of history when someone, somewhere feels a name or place connotes bad memories.

First it was Sir Hector Langevin, then Robert E. Lee, then John A. Macdonald and now Frank Oliver. Will Bishop Grandin be next?

Sir Hector Langevin may have been known as the ‘architect of residential schools’ but he also stood up for Aboriginal peoples prior to the Northwest Rebellion in 1885 when he stated:

“. . . the members of the government ought not to ignore the Métis. They, as well as the Indians, have their national pride. They like to have attention paid to them and could be more irritated by the contempt of which they feel themselves, rightly or wrongly, the victims.”

Robert E. Lee was an American hero in the eyes of the Confederacy, a top graduate of the United States Military Academy and an exceptional officer. Just because he led the Confederate Army and represented the Southern States in a cause that today we abhor does not mean that he was a bad person and we need to destroy all tributes to him. His views were obviously aligned with the views of his constituency at the time.

The Ontario Teachers Union is going after Canada’s first prime minister because of his role in the residential school debate. And then there is Frank Oliver, Edmonton’s first Member of Parliament and editor/publisher of the original Edmonton Bulletin.

Nobody is perfect – just because someone is involved in a decision that we today believe to be a bad decision does that mean that person was downright wicked and we need to strike their name from history? No way – we must think back to the time those decisions were made and view them in the context of the times and the mood of the populace at the time. Was that decision made by that person alone, or was it in line with widely accepted views of the time?

As Peter Shawn Taylor asks – “Is our past unfit for the present?” Decisions made with regard to residential schools were made at a time with the Indigenous population had lost their livelihood and were starving. The solution was to give them an education and teach them to farm and how to survive in the absence of the buffalo hunt. The concept of the residential schools was thought to have merit, however the implementation caused considerable hardship and abuse that was an unforeseen consequence and was no fault of the government of the day.

A similar case can be made for changing long established names of sports teams. Many Inuit are honoured to have the Edmonton football team, named the Eskimos – why change it? Similarly with such names as the Cleveland Indians. Society changes from using ‘Indians,’ to ‘natives,’ to ‘Indigenous peoples,’ then ‘First Nations.’ Where does it stop?

Above all however, we need to cut the political grandstanding and leave things as they are – the rename/remove movement is frivolous and often politically motivated – we need to be objective and learn from our history; not try to bury it!

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Ken Allred