Hamilton City Council took the right decision in referring the future of the Sir. John A MacDonald statue to a committee that has been established to study it– along with roughly 200 other named sites, objects, places and streets that may be subject to historical controversy.
The process that was so scornfully blown off by the Hamilton Spectator, and councillors Nann and Wilson was recommended by a staff team headed by Shelly Hill, Manager of Indigenous Relations and herself an indigenous person. Among other things the plan includes the engagement of an indigenous consulting firm to lead the evaluations of the various landmarks and monuments. Before drafting their recommendation Ms. Hill and her team held preliminary conversations with the Aboriginal Advisory Committee, the UIS Coordinating Circle and the Professional Aboriginal Advocacy Networking Group.
The “process,” which in the heat of the moment, has become a dirty word, flows from the City’s Indigenous strategy which was unanimously endorsed by this council in 2019.
The historical review process led by Ms. Hill will, as the report reads, “engage with the Indigenous community and the broader community in order to inform short and long-term opportunities to respectfully and meaningfully address both Indigenous and historical landmarks. This may include the addition of new landmarks and/or the moving or removal of, the re-interpretation of, and/or the renaming of landmarks, in order to support a more equitable, balanced, and inclusive representation of Indigenous histories, contributions in Hamilton, the history of colonialism and residential schools, and a spirit of reconciliation.” Who could possibly object to such a process that tries to put a structure in place to deal in a systematic way with these controversies as they arise? The alternative, as some councillors suggested would be a never-ending series of overheated confrontations at council every time a new historical figure came under scrutiny.
A month before the adoption of the Indigenous strategy in 2019, Garth Bell, who identifies as black and indigenous. described to a council committee his work in conducting restorative justice workshops. These are healing circles where victims and perpetrators are brought together in an effort to bring about true reconciliation. He referred to the process as “bringing people to a good mind.” He warned against a punitive process. He was speaking more about the criminal justice system but the underlying principals apply to the statue controversy. To tear down the statue in question without a collaborative process such as staff recommended, would inflame a large part of the community, and would deepen racial tensions. That is not reconciliation.
Thomas Baker McQuesten, (whose own historical re-reckoning will no doubt come someday,) wrote 90 years ago, ”all classes …equally fail in adhering to a process when it happens to clash with the convenience of the moment.” That applies here. There is a process in place that was developed with a high degree of indigenous involvement. Let it do its work so we can arrive at a means of dealing with confronting our past on a consistent basis.