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Instead, a totally different approach was imported from Europe that emphasized rapid exploitation of resources and maximization of financial profit and prosperity. Indigenous peoples and their spiritual relationship to the land was ridiculed and sidelined. The result of this is what Doug Cuthand referred to in his Sept 19 column: “In the seven generations since we signed Treaty, we have witnessed the loss of our way of life, the extraction of resources and the start of a climate crisis that will bring change to all of Turtle Island.”
I also agree with the observation of David Garneau and others in Postmedia Saskatchewan’s “Looking Back, Looking Forward” article of the same date that the positioning of the Macdonald statue in Victoria Park in Regina just metres away from the site of Riel’s trial is tantamount to a provocation and slap in the face of Indigenous people. In my book, Loyal Till Death, on the events of the Resistance of 1885, it is also clear that it was at Macdonald’s insistence that eight First Nations individuals be tried for murder in order that their mass hanging provide a lesson.
There is still a lot of ignorance about Macdonald’s role including that by Tom Lukiwski in a Leader-Post letter to the editor on Sept. 19. He claims that Macdonald did not invent residential schools and that they began in 1831. While there have been efforts to school Indigenous children going back into the 1600s, Macdonald’s inspiration for residential schools rose out of the Social Darwinism of the 1850s, a philosophy that espoused Indigenous inferiority and unleashed a policy of extreme aggressiveness to eradicate Indigenous peoples through supposedly benign education or neglect. But to me, the real issue is that people see through the myth that Canada began with people like Macdonald. What about those who were in this land for thousands of years before and a sacrificed their own self-interest in order to protect the land, and also welcomed newcomers even while realizing that those newcomers showed them little respect. I elaborate on these topics in my recent book, Loss of Indigenous Eden. There is a lot at stake in debates over a simple statue. It’s an opportunity to create greater understanding of the need for greater mutual understanding.
Blair Stonechild is a long-time Indigenous studies professor at the First Nations University of Canada.